LSU AgCenter Researchers Studying If Fire Ants Are Contributing To Diminishing Quail Population

Linda Hooper-Bui, Sanders, Dearl E., Morgan, Johnny W.  |  9/20/2006 2:02:50 AM

LSU AgCenter research associate Michael Seymour shows a quail egg to his coworker, Thabit Folami. Both work in the AgCenter’s Red Imported Fire Ant Laboratory, and Seymour is showing what he thinks might be a hole created by fire ants. Seymour’s research project is looking at the possibility that fire ants may be the cause of declining numbers of quail in Louisiana and other southern states.

News Release Distributed 09/19/06

LSU AgCenter scientists are studying whether an influx of fire ants may have caused a decline in northern bobwhite quail numbers in Louisiana and other southern states.

The research project has been conducted over the past three years at the LSU AgCenter’s Idlewild Research Station near Clinton.

LSU AgCenter entomologist Dr. Linda Hooper-Bui and research associate Michael Seymour designed the study to look at ways fire ants may be affecting the population of birds in certain areas.

According to Seymour, who works in the LSU AgCenter’s Red Imported Fire Ant Laboratory in Baton Rouge, the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies suggests the bobwhite quail could be totally gone from some areas of the South by 2010.

"The birds are a ‘species of concern’ in some states," Seymour said, explaining, "In Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina the bobwhite harvest has experienced a greater than 90 percent decline since 1980 – a combination of fewer bobwhite hunters and fewer numbers of birds to hunt."

Seymour, who is the principal investigator for the research project, says the overall goal of this study is to look for ways to enhance quail populations in Louisiana.

The work at the Idlewild Research Station includes six 11-acre research plots. Those plots have birds from captive-quail farms in Louisiana and Arkansas.

While fire ants have been in Louisiana for nearly 40 years, they have only been in the area of Arkansas where these birds were originally found for about three years.

Seymour said the aviaries are set up in three different pairs. Half of the plots have Louisiana and Arkansas birds located in areas that were treated to suppress fire ants. The other three plots are paired with those treated plots but have birds in an area that was left untreated.

Dr. Dearl Sanders, LSU AgCenter professor and resident director at the Idlewild Research Station, said it appears that when the fire ants came into the area around the station, the number of quail declined.

"What we are seeing with this research is that the fire ants are able to consume the young quail as soon as they are hatched, but the findings show that the older birds are able to take care of themselves," he said.

Seymour said one of the most surprising findings of the study so far is that the ants seem to be able to breach the eggshells of fully intact quail eggs.

"We’ve observed the ants forming a circle on individual eggs, and we noticed later that the eggs have leaks," Seymour said. "We have not confirmed if the ants actually caused the hole, but it appears that they are the cause."

The experts say there already is evidence that shows fire ants are having detrimental effects on bobwhites.

"If the findings of this study agree with that evidence, future management measures may be required to provide a safe environment for quail," Seymour said.

This research project will be complete later this fall, and the results will be published as part of Seymour’s master’s degree thesis.

For additional information on research and educational projects involving fire ants – and a variety of other topics – visit the LSU AgCenter’s Web site at


Linda Hooper-Bui at (225) 578-1832 or
Dearl Sanders at (225) 683-5848 or
Michael Seymour at (225) 578-7149 or
Johnny Morgan at (225) 578-8484 or

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