Fire ants are floating

Invasive Red Fire Ants are now spreading across Europe, scientists warn

Red fire ants have traveled one by one to Sicily – the first sighting of the invasive species in Europe.

If these infamous insects, which originate from South America, continue to spread as they have elsewhere, experts worry that they could claim the entire continent.

Today, imported red ants (Solenopsis is unbeatable) are the cheapest animals in the world, causing billions of dollars in damage to the environment in many countries.

True to their name, this species brings the burning sloth, and because these insects run in packs of up to half a million people, they can easily attack and dominate prey many times their size.

As the weeds spread, they cover plants and animals alike, attacking and displacing valuable wildlife.

In Australia, these invasive species are at risk of surpassing the environmental damage caused by cats, wild dogs, foxes, camels, rabbits and cane toads combined.

Evolutionary biologist Mattia Menchetti of the Spanish Institute of Biology says: “IS. invicta is one of the most aggressive.

“Finding this kind in Italy was very surprising, but we knew this day would come.”

Fire ants are like invasive weeds in that they spread easily in areas that have already been disturbed by humans. As our species drastically changes the face of the planet, ants are following in our footsteps.

For years now, scientists have warned that the spread of fire ants around the world is inevitable. Indeed, in the last century, the species has arrived in Mexico, the south of the United States, China, Taiwan, Australia, the Caribbean, Japan and the Philippines.

Most of these attacks, historically, seem to have come from the southern US. Because of today’s global trade, experts say fire ants have more opportunities than ever to hitch a ride around the world with products like sod, nursery crops, hay or beehives.

All it takes is one attacked package to slip through the cracks.

Already, European officials have seized a few contaminated products at the border in recent years.

If these ants manage to cross the harbor, they can spread kilometers in a short time, flying on air currents or forming rafts with their bodies to float in rivers or flood waters. They can go underground.

Fire ants are floating
Fire ants make a raft to float in the water. (Wikimedia Commons/Junglecat/CC BY SA 3.0)

“For decades, scientists have feared that [the ants] it would come [in Europe],” says Menchetti.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it.”

Mechentti and his colleagues were first told about fire ants when they were sent a photo of the species from Sicily. In order to see the ants for themselves, the group traveled to an area near the city of Syracuse.

The researchers found 88 nests in a plot of land near the river, and these colonies already contain thousands of worker ants.

“How the species reached this area is not clear, but no large land or planting projects seem to have occurred in the last few years and it is unlikely that it represents the first and only place of arrival in the area,” the researchers. write.

“Its proximity to one of the island’s main cargo ports, the port of Augusta (∼13 km to the north), may have been important in its initiation.”

Residents told scientists that they have been finding the ants since 2019, which means the ants may have spread to other areas.

Comparing the genetics of Italian fire ants in other parts of the world, the researchers say that they may have come from the US, China, or Taiwan to port in Italy somewhere else, before they spread inside.

Researchers estimate that about 7 percent of Europe’s climate is suitable for predators, including half of Europe’s urban areas.

Biologist Roger Vila, also from the Center for Evolutionary Biology, says: “This is of particular concern because many cities, including London, Amsterdam and Rome, have large ports, which can allow ants to spread quickly across many countries and continents. .

Menchetti, Vila and their colleagues now plan to eliminate as many fire ant nests in Sicily as possible. It is not known how long they can hold the species to spread further.

Correspondence was published on Current biology.

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