Phototaxis in Ants: History
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Ants are one of the largest insect groups, with the most species and individuals in the world, and they have an important ecological function. Ants are not only an important part of the food chains but are also one of the main decomposers on the Earth; they can also improve soil fertility, etc. However, some species of ants are harmful to human beings, which leads to people’s panic or worry about coming into contact with these insects during their daily home life or in their tourism or leisure activities. The presence of ants in indoor living facilities and in outdoor green spaces, parks, gardens, and tourist attractions seriously interferes with the leisure life and entertainment activities of all people (especially children). Therefore, it is a matter of public health and environmental protection to ensure ant prevention by adopting green control technology and not merely by spraying pesticides to kill them.

  • ants
  • pest
  • phototaxis
  • prevention and control
  • light source

1. Introduction

Ants are one of the most diverse and abundant animal groups in the world, and they can be found everywhere, with more than 10,000 species [1]. Among them, many species are harmful to people (such as Solenopsis invicta, Monomorium pharaonis, etc.), and they are listed as high-priority quarantine pests by many countries [2]. These harmful ants will cause serious consequences after stinging people, resulting in people’s panic or worry about coming into contact with these ants in their daily home life or during outdoor tourism activities.
Ants may conflict with humans as a pest species in homes and living facilities (such as in closets, wardrobes, cabinets, and tables, etc.), as well as outdoor facilities (such as tables, chairs, benches, etc.). In addition, ants and humans can come into conflict in green spaces (including parks, gardens, and tourist attractions) and they can seriously interfere with the public leisure and entertainment activities of people (especially children). Ants can also damage agricultural equipment [3]. In addition, the problem of fire ants, leafcutter ants, termites, and other insects is very serious in tropical areas, causing extensive damage to crops and reforestation [4]. However, ants have an important ecological function; they are an important part of the food chain in ecosystems, not only serving as one of the main decomposers on the Earth but also playing a role in improving soil fertility. In nature, the ecological function of ants is equivalent to that of cleaners, shouldering the important task of purifying the environment, and they are also a food source and natural enemies for many animals. In addition to feeding on seeds, these ants can also, therefore, accidentally disperse them [5]. Also, they perform important ecosystem services such as pest control [6]. Therefore, it can be seen that the niches that they occupy are too important to be replaced by other organisms.
Even though ants are frequently encountered in people’s daily home life or in tourism and leisure activities, they must not be arbitrarily killed; harmless green management technology should be adopted to carry out the comprehensive prevention and control of ant colonies in order to protect diversity and for conservation purposes in these environments. Ecological pest control using insect tropism is considered to be an effective way to achieve green ecological pest control. Tropism is the directional behavioral response of insects to external stimuli. Among them, those who move in the direction of the stimulus are called positive taxis (i.e., seduction), and those who move away from the direction of the stimulus are negative taxis (i.e., avoidance). According to the nature of the stimulus sources, insect taxis mainly include phototaxis, chemotaxis, chromotaxis, thermotaxis, and humidity taxis, among which phototaxis, chemotaxis, and chromotaxis (namely, the “3-tropisms”) are widely used in pest control, monitoring, and early warnings [7][8][9][10][11][12]. At present, inductive killing and repellent technologies have been widely used in the monitoring and control of disease-carrying insects (such as mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, fleas, etc.) [13].

2. Light-Trap Killing Technology to the Prevention and Control of Ants

The light sensed by insects is mostly short-wave light that is near the broad-spectrum center of the electromagnetic wave, with a wavelength range of 253–700 nm. This is equivalent to the section from the ultraviolet light range in the spectrum to the inner part of the infrared light range [14]. Insects can both recognize color and see short light waves beyond the human eye. Phototaxis is the tendency response to the induction of a specific range spectrum by the photoreceptor cells in the visual organ, while spectral sensitivity describes the relationship between the response threshold and the wavelength of the insect compound eye or photoreceptor to light stimulation, i.e., the proportion of absorption of incident light and the generation of electrical signals. To date, there are several hypotheses about insect phototaxis, which can be listed as follows: (1) the optical orientation behavior hypothesis (OoBH): Many nocturnal insects use a celestial body as a reference for their phototaxis, with their body’s vertical axis perpendicular to the celestial body and horizontal with the insect’s body line. Night-time lights are also used as directional references by insects, but this reference is much closer than the referenced celestial body. As a result, the insects spiral toward the light, which eventually causes the insects to approach the light source [15]. (2) Biological antenna hypothesis (BAH): This posits that insect photosynthesis is caused by courtship behavior and that the various protrusions, depressions, and thread structures on insect antennae are similar to contemporary antenna devices. The insect’s antennae can sense the pheromone’s molecular vibration, while the far-infrared spectra in the attractive insect lights are consistent with the vibrational lines in the pheromone molecules; therefore, the insects react to this information, leading to phototaxis [16]. (3) Light interference hypothesis (LIH): The hypothesis suggests that the dazzling effect on nocturnal insects in dark zones interferes with their normal behavior. Due to the low brightness of the dark zone, insects are unable to return to the dark area to continue their activities, resulting in an attraction to the light lamp [7].
The light source is the main factor in attracting and gathering insects. The previous literature has indicated that the wavelength, intensity, and polarization of a light source can affect the phototactic behavior of insects [9][11][12]. In general, the spectral reaction-sensitive areas of insects are mainly concentrated in the ultraviolet light (350 nm), blue light (440 nm), and yellow-green light (540 nm) spectra. Each species of insect varies in terms of their specific wavelength preference within these three segments [9][17]. Within a certain range of light intensity, insect phototactic behavior gradually increases as the light intensity increases. Wang et al. (2016) found that the phototaxis index of Rhyzopertha dominica at 20,000 and 10,000 lx light intensities was significantly higher than that at 5000, 2500, and 1500 lx light intensities [18]. Moreover, different types of polarized light differ in their ability to attract insects. Zhang et al. (2021) indicated that light intensity had no significant effect on the phototaxis rate of adult oriental armyworms (Mythimna separata), while the phototactic behavior of armyworms of M. separate was mainly affected by the light wavelength; the sensitive light wavelengths of female and male adults were also different [19]. Gong and Liu (2011) found that Drosophila larvae display light avoidance behavior [20]. According to the distribution of absorption peaks, the photoreceptors of insects are divided into three categories, i.e., short-, medium-, and long-wavelength types [21]. The spectral sensitivity of small-eye receptors in the dorsal margin varies according to insect species; bees, ants, and flies are sensitive to ultraviolet light, crickets and locusts is sensitive to blue light, and Coleopteran beetles are sensitive to green light. Insect behavioral responses to UV light are on two levels, namely, UV sensitivity and UV vision [22]. UV sensitivity is the ability of insects to sense and detect UV light, i.e., they have photoreceptor cells in the retina that absorb UV light and can convert these optical signals into electrical signals [23]. Many insects have UV sensitivity and can sense a certain UV light wavelength being reflected by light sources or objects in their surrounding environment, causing them to perform corresponding trend or avoidance reactions [24][25]. At present, there are few reports on the study of ant phototaxis, although it is generally believed that ants exhibit no phototaxis or have only a limited phototaxis response to short, medium, and long light waves. There is still a lack of sufficient experimental evidence and research on this aspect needs to be strengthened urgently. However, light stimulation experiments to determine the phototactic behavior of ants at specific wavelengths show that ants have a clear preference for UV light [26]. Based on the three main insect photoreceptors (i.e., UV, green, and blue light sensitivity), ant taxa are more sensitive to purple and green, or there are species specificity differences that require further experimental verification [9][17][27].
Light-trap killing technology is a commonly used technique for pest control that is based on insect phototaxis, and its development in China has gone through five stages [28]. Firstly, in the 1950s, incandescent lamps, oil lamps, steam lamps, and other ordinary lights were used to light-trap and kill insect pests, although the controlling efficiency of such lights in terms of killing pests is limited [29]. Secondly, during the 1960s and 1970s, black lights and high-pressure mercury lamps were developed, and the controlling efficiency of such developed lights in terms of killing pests was significantly improved. However, their light spectrum was broad, with poor selectivity regarding the induced insect species, high potential safety risks, and high costs [30]. Thirdly, in the 1990s, the frequency-vibration-type trap-killing lamp was developed, which overcomes the shortcomings of incandescent lamps, black lamps, high-pressure mercury lamps, etc., by using different wavelengths of light sources in combination with color and odor to trap specifically targeted insect pests [28]. Of course, using a high-voltage power grid to kill insects presents potential dangers to human and animal security. Fourthly, in the early 21st century, a new light source (i.e., LED) trap lamp was developed; this kind of lamp has high brightness, low energy consumption, and long usage life. A single-wavelength LED light source can also solve the problem of poor selectivity regarding target insects, due to its wide spectral range; it can also improve the safety level and enhance the trap-killing efficiency regarding the targeted insect pests. Finally, recently, a new intelligent trap-killing lamp system based on LED and other trap lamps integrates automatic counting, image recognition, and network transmission for a green approach to the prevention and control of ants.

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/insects14110892


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