You’re bugging me! How often have we said that to our children, a gnat or mosquito? Well, sometimes fish appear to feel the same way.If you’ve ever walked around barefooted then you know about the unpleasant aspects of fire ants. Most of us think fire ants have a nasty little bite and that it leaves a painful small blister for a few days. It turns out that it’s not their bite, which they only use to hold on, but their sting that causes the problem.Fire ants don’t produce formic acid like most other ants. They inject alkaloid venom from a gland at the base of their tail with a stinger. Additionally, a chemical is released when the first one stings that signals other ants to attack. When they’re in the winged phase of their life cycle millions of fire ants will swarm and fly around looking for a place to start a new colony.In still coastal backwater streams and bayous of Alabama’s coast a seldom seen and little thought about event takes place near the end of winter or the beginning of spring.As fate would have it, many fire ants in their winged phase land on the water. The spotted sea trout, croaker and other fish see this event as their own personal all-you-can-eat special. These fish will eat fire ants until they can’t hold any more.The toxin contained in the fire ants will end up killing some of the fish. Most of the fish that feed on fire ants will only become sick and recover without permanent damage. Fire ant related fish kills aren’t a serious problem along the Gulf Coast.Other than fire ants’ direct effect on fish there is a noisy insect called the cicada that has an effect that’s not so obvious.The cicada lives by sucking the sap from plants. Some of its close relatives are the leaf and treehoppers. Most cicadas live two to eight years with adults around every year. These are called annual cicadas.The ones we hear about the most are the periodic cicadas. These populations of cicadas appear at the same time every 13 or 17 years. When many millions of these cicadas make their appearance at the same time the noise they make keeps people awake at night. One thing they do we don’t see is that they help to indirectly increase the fish population.With so many insects appearing for a short period of time when they die their decaying bodies provide fertilizer. Rainfall washes it into streams that fill out estuaries and bayous. This increases the production of phytoplankton with their biomass getting passed up the food chain. Studies have shown that some fish populations can increase by as much as ten percent because of this event.
Think Global – Act Local!