The poisonous animal is spreading throughout Europe

Invasion warning as one of the world’s most feared creatures is ‘coming to the UK’

The poisonous animal is spreading across Europe (Image: Getty)

One of the world’s most feared creatures is heading for Britain, new research warns.

The red fire ant, considered one of the most invasive species in the world – and the fifth most expensive to combat – has been introduced and introduced to Europe, a study reveals.

Its sting – described as ‘painful and irritating’ – can cause pus and discomfort, and can even cause fatal anaphylactic shock.

Originally from South America, the red fire ant, known as Solenopsis invicta, has had a major impact on ecosystems, agriculture and human health in several countries around the world.

Now, researchers have identified 88 red ant nests spread over five hectares near the city of Syracuse on the Italian island of Sicily.

They say the colonies may have come from China or the US, where it is also an invasive species.

The red fire ant has a painful sting (Image: Getty/iStockphoto)

Ecological models developed as part of the study show ‘frightening’ predictions about the potential for ant colonies in Europe, which could be helped by climate change.

Invasive species may be established in seven percent of Europe, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology.

In less than a century, the ant has spread throughout the US, Mexico, the Caribbean, China, Taiwan and Australia, and has only been exterminated in New Zealand.

Its presence in the US has caused an estimated loss of £5 billion a year, while countries including Australia have given millions to its eradication, but with little success.

Before the new study, red fire ants were occasionally found among the products exported from Spain, Holland and Finland, but its establishment in the continent was not confirmed.

Using genetic analysis, the researchers concluded that the people found in Sicily probably came from China or the US, but the method of entry is unknown. The colonies are located in the suburbs of the city of Syracuse, Sicily, which include a harbor and a natural park.

Fire ant stings can cause painful swelling – but also anaphylactic shock (Image: Getty/iStockphoto)

‘It’s a small area, so it’s unlikely that it was the first point of entry to the island,’ said research leader Dr Roger Vila, of Spain’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE).

The team decided that the entrance should be a ‘go-to’ area with human activity – similar to the commercial port of the city of Syracuse.

Wind direction analysis suggests that some flying queen ants may have arrived from the northwest, where the port of Syracuse is located and where the team recommended monitoring the ants.

‘The results suggest that half of the urban areas in Europe may be suitable for the climate to establish these invasive plants,’ said Dr Vila.

‘Big cities such as Barcelona, ​​​​​​​​Rome, London or Paris can be very affected by this invasive animal, which can affect people’s way of life due to its abundance and aggression.

‘The cities on the coast of the Mediterranean, highly connected by ports, are the most suitable for S invicta, which may facilitate its spread.

‘Considering the hypothesis of climate change, the situation could be even worse, as the species could increase in other parts of Europe.’

He added: ‘Coordinated early detection and rapid response efforts in the region are essential to successfully manage this new threat, before it spreads uncontrollably.’

First author Mattia Menchetti said: ‘The public can play a key role in the detection of S invicta, given that it is often found in urban and suburban areas.

‘It is possible to recognize this ant due to its painful sting and the characteristic signs of their nests, although expert confirmation is required.’

The group recommends that monitoring should be expanded to a larger geographic area.

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