Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren; RIFA) and black imported fire ant (Solenopsis richteri Forel (Hymenoptera: Formicidae); BIFA) are considered distinct species with introgression via a reproductively functional hybrid (HIFA). The RIFA and BIFA common names are based on relative coloration. Due to human color perception variation, using color to identify RIFA, BIFA or HIFA is challenging. Fire ant identification traditionally involves molecular or chemical techniques, but a colorimetric test could allow rapid and low-cost identification. In this study, ant integument coloration was measured by spectrophotometer, and color attributes were compared to a combined gas chromatography (GC) index derived from cuticular hydrocarbon and venom alkaloid indices. Significant Pearson Correlation coefficients were found for colony GC index versus color attributes red to green (a*), blue to yellow (b*), chroma (C*), and hue (h*), but not lightness (L*). The RIFA colonies were distinct from BIFA for four of five color attributes and plots of the a*b* and C*h* horizontal axis of the L*a*b* and L*C*h* color spaces. Color attributes for HIFA indices were not distinct from BIFA and RIFA parental species, but HIFA a*b* and C*h* plots were distinct from RIFA and a*b* plots from BIFA. Color attributes a*, b*, and C* increased and h* decreased with GC index in a sinusoidal pattern. In conclusion, most RIFA and BIFA color attributes were distinct and a*b* and C*h* color axes plots had potential to distinguish HIFA from parental species, but coloration of HIFA indices was variable and complicated identifications among HIFA phenotypes, RIFA and BIFA.
M Pandey, K M Addesso, L W Alexander, N N Youssef, J B Oliver, Relationship of Imported Fire Ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) Integument Coloration to Cuticular Hydrocarbon and Venom Alkaloid Profiles, Environmental Entomology, Volume 50, Issue 2, April 2021, Pages 317–323, https://doi.org/10.1093/ee/nvaa184