10 Insects We Love to Study

Fire Ants
Make way for the queen of red imported fire ants. This queen was photographed with her eggs in a lab. © Alex Wild/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

The infamous red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta)first arrived in the United States in the 1930s, probably aboard a Brazilian cargo ship [source: National Geographic]. Since then, they've proved to be an ecological nightmare for many communities, especially in the South. They can attack an animal and strip its carcass within hours. In addition, fire ants are marauders, attacking and stinging as a group. Their venom is toxic and burning. The ants have marched across many states, devastating ecosystems by stripping the soil of vegetation and by eradicating certain species from the area. In Texas alone, red fire ants are responsible for an estimated $1.2 billion in damage each year [source: TAMU].

Researchers focus on eliminating and controlling the pest through genetic, chemical and nonchemical means. One study even looked at whether home remedies, such as spreading coffee grounds, cinnamon, club soda or cayenne pepper on the ground could repel the ants. The conclusion? Largely useless unless, as one entomologist noted, you actually drowned the ants with club soda [source: Williams].