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Red Alert: Invasive fire ants confirmed in Europe for first time – “One of the most invasive species”

Rad ant Close Art Concept

Red fire ant, Solenopsis is unbeatable, native to South America, made its debut in Europe, especially in Sicily. Research shows that this species can spread rapidly across Europe, posing environmental, health and economic challenges. (Artist’s photo. See photos below.)

A red invasive ant, native to South America, has been officially identified in Sicily, marking its introduction to Europe. Researchers warn of its rapid spread, causing major environmental and health challenges across the continent.

One of the most offensive species in the world anyway Solenopsis is unbeatable, a type of red fire ant with a painful wound. Originally from South America, the ant has settled all over the world. In an article to be published today (September 11) in the journal Current biology, a group of ant experts confirms that this species has arrived in Sicily—the first ant to officially see it in Europe. The ants could spread across the continent, researchers warn, causing major environmental, health and economic problems in Italy and beyond.

in St one of the worst invasive species. It can spread surprisingly quickly,” says lead author Mattia Menchetti of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Spain. “Finding this brand in Italy was very surprising, but we knew this day would come.”

It is often called the imported red ant. in StThe ant’s name comes from the ant’s most unpleasant characteristic—its sting—which is painful and, at times, can cause anaphylactic shock.

Red Ant (S invicta)

Close up photo of in St. Credit: Jesse Rorabaugh

Ant Global March

Although it originated in South America, in St spread quickly, fly in the air currents to move more at the local level. But people have helped it to spread in the maritime industry and to export plant products, which has enabled it to establish itself in Australia, China, the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States in less than a century. Researchers say Europe ran longer than expected.

Menchetti says: “There are a lot of foreign ants in Europe, and the absence of these ants was a relief. “For decades, scientists feared it would come. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it.”

After seeing photos taken in Sicily of what appears to be in St, researchers traveled to the area to confirm the identity of the ants and collect samples. They found a total of 88 nests in an area of ​​4.7 hectares near the river, some of which housed thousands of worker ants. After speaking with local residents, the researchers discovered that the people of the Sicilian region had been bitten—and often—for several years. “People here have been experiencing these pains since at least 2019, so the ants have probably been there for a while,” Menchetti said. “And the actual expansion of the affected area is likely to be large.”

Ant Nest in Grass

S. invicta nest in Sicily along a river. Credit: Institute of Evolutionary Biology

Background and Assumptions

The team suspects that was not the case in StThe first point of arrival in Europe. Although they could not determine exactly how in St entered Italy, after analyzing the DNA Sicilian queen ants and comparing it with the genomes of ants from all over the world, the researchers concluded that this particular population may have come from either the US or China.

Then, the authors analyzed local wind patterns in Sicily to see how the ants might spread now that they are in Europe. They also put together a comprehensive model to determine how well the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean region will behave – and whether climate change will be a factor.

For example, 7% of continental Europe is eligible in St due to current environmental conditions, and climate change will accelerate the spread and growth of the population even more. They also found that urban areas are at risk. In fact, 50% of European cities are at risk of attack. “This is particularly worrying because many cities, including London, Amsterdam and Rome, have large ports, which can allow ants to spread quickly across countries and continents,” says senior author Roger Vila, of the Centre. of Evolutionary Biology in Spain.

Red Fire Ant Distribution Map

A map showing the locations of indigenous peoples and invaders of S. invicta worldwide. Credit: Institute of Evolutionary Biology

Termination and Community Inclusion

Because the only place that has successfully eradicated the invaders is New Zealand, the researchers plan to base their intervention on what has worked there and on ongoing efforts in China. To begin with, they will systematically check areas of the area to see if the species has arrived. After that, they will begin a multi-year treatment plan to eradicate the nests and monitor the infested areas carefully to make sure there are no recurrences. The authors emphasize the importance of community involvement as much as possible to help monitor the spread of ants.

“Citizens can play an important role in this,” says Menchetti. “We hope that, with their help, we will be able to cover a wider area. This will help us to track and identify all the potential attacks in the region. ” The group hopes to facilitate citizen science programs where people can observe St. Invincible and take pictures if they think they have found ants. Experts will then double-check to make sure it’s the right type of ant—an important step because many European ants make nests that look similar.

“More attention should be paid to this problem because the problem is already in Europe,” says Menchetti. “We need coordinated action, and we need it now.”

Reference: “Fire ant Solenopsis invicta established in Europe” September 11, 2023, Current biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.07.036

This research was supported by funds from the “la Caixa” Foundation, through the fellowship of Beatriu de Pinós, and the Secretariat of University and Research 91 (Department of Research and Universities, Generalitat de Catalunya) and the grant of the Joan Oró predoctoral program 92 and the European Social Fund Plus.

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