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Friends of Farmers and Foes of Fruit Flies

Weaver ants (genus Oecophylla) are known for their unique nest building behavior, constructing nests by weaving together leaves using larval silk. Like many other ant species, weaver ants prey on small insects. For the past 2,000 years, the Chinese have made use of the voracious appetite of weaver ants to control insect pests in their citrus orchards. To do this, they first put a weaver ant nest in an orchard. Then, they place bamboo strips among the trees to serve as "ant bridges." These ant bridges encourage the ants to colonize all the trees. More fruit growers are now bringing back this traditional practice of using weaver ants for pest control. It is a cheaper way of dealing with insects that have developed resistance to chemical insecticides.

The role of predatory ants in sustaining agricultural systems is an under-explored research area. Scientists say that the ants have proven effective for fruit fly control, and they can be used for controlling pests in most perennial crops. Weaver ants are better than various parasitoids currently in place which only attack specific species of the fruit fly, necessitating development of numerous species-specific parasitoids, each of which takes ten years or more to develop and release. The readily-available weaver ant is indiscriminate in its predation on fruit flies and is active throughout the year.

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