December 2, 2023

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Invasion of Europe by Red Fire Ants: Originating from China or United States

Invasion of Europe by Red Fire Ants: Originating from China or United States

Invasion of Europe by Red Fire Ants: Originating from China or United States

Reports indicate that Red Fire Ants have made their way to Sicily, Italy, where a research team discovered a total of 88 Red Fire Ant nests on a 4.7-hectare piece of land.

Some of these nests were substantial in size, housing thousands of members.

These aggressive ants have invaded Europe for the first time, causing concerns among Europeans. Originally from South America, Red Fire Ants have rapidly spread their presence in regions like China, Australia, the United States, and Mexico over just a few decades.

Invasion of Europe by Red Fire Ants: Originating from China or United States

But where did the ants in Sicily come from? Scientists conducted DNA tests on these ants, suggesting that they either originated from China or the United States. Furthermore, scientists have predicted the potential spread of these tiny ants, with a model indicating that 50% of European cities, including London, might be at risk of infestation.

What does it feel like to be bitten by these ants?

Renowned YouTuber Coyote Peterson, provided an answer by bravely entering a Red Fire Ant nest barefoot to demonstrate their biting capabilities and test his endurance.

In the video, dressed in formal attire, he immediately faced a swarm of Red Fire Ants, experiencing intense pain from their stings. He exclaimed, “Red Fire Ants are incredibly powerful; they’re destroying my feet!” After a few minutes, the stung areas on his legs became swollen, and he endured the excruciating pain by screaming continuously. Unable to bear it any longer, he had to use a feather duster to remove the ants from his legs, ending the experiment.

According to the YouTuber, he suffered from at least 500 ant bites on his legs, resulting in severe burns. These blisters burst open after 14 hours, resembling burn blisters, due to the potent venom delivered by the Red Fire Ants. Entomologist Justin Schmidt, who tested the bites of 150 different insects, created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, ranking the Bullet Ant as the most painful with a rating of 4.0+, while Red Fire Ants ranked ninth with a rating of 1.2. This indicates that their bites are still highly unpleasant.

The key concern is not just their bites but also the potential for severe allergic reactions, which can be fatal. Records show that over 80 people have died from Red Fire Ant stings. In 2020, there were cases of anaphylactic shock due to Red Fire Ant stings in Guangzhou, China, with victims surviving only thanks to prompt medical intervention.

Given the danger they pose, why haven’t humans controlled their spread but instead allowed Red Fire Ants to proliferate globally? Although native to South America, these ants can spread through various means. They can be transported through global trade in soil, plant products, construction materials, and even short distances via wind and water. When they encounter water, they can form ant rafts and float to other locations.

Research suggests that Red Fire Ants arrived in the United States as early as 1933-1945, likely transported on cargo ships to the port of Mobile. They quickly established a foothold in the United States and experienced exponential growth in the 1950s. By 2004, these ants were found in 13 states, covering over 128 million hectares of land, with up to 400 mounds per acre.

In China, they were first reported in Wuchuan, Guangzhou, in September 2004, and by 2013, Red Fire Ants had spread to seven provinces and 169 counties.

Their rapid spread can be attributed to their adaptability. Red Fire Ants exhibit both single-queen and multiple-queen colony structures, which means they can reproduce prolifically. In single-queen colonies, the maximum daily egg-laying rate is around 800 eggs, and some studies suggest it can be as high as 1500 eggs. Multiple-queen colonies can lay between 2000 to 3000 eggs per day.

Their ability to reproduce quickly is a prerequisite for invasion, but their aggression and resilience are equally crucial. As mentioned earlier, Red Fire Ant stings are severe not only for humans but also for other animals. Consequently, their presence deters wildlife, even other ant species, from their vicinity. Additionally, their omnivorous diet includes plant seeds and the occasional consumption of animal carcasses, such as unhatched crocodile and bird eggs, weak fledglings, and vulnerable invertebrates.

As a result, Red Fire Ants cause problems wherever they go, affecting plant seedling survival in farmlands, posing risks to infrastructure in urban areas, causing electrical fires in homes, and disrupting wildlife by preying on their eggs. Given these challenges, Red Fire Ants were ranked as the fifth-most damaging invasive species globally in 2021, with the cost of their impact and management in the United States alone estimated at one billion dollars.

In conclusion, with Red Fire Ants already in Italy, time is running out for the United Kingdom. Without effective control measures, these ants are likely to invade Europe at an alarming rate. Many European cities provide favorable conditions for Red Fire Ant survival, and with the assistance of these urban hubs, the global spread of these ants will only accelerate.

Scientists warn that the invasion of Red Fire Ants in Italy may be more severe than currently observed, making their control a significant and challenging endeavor. While many years of efforts have been made, only New Zealand has successfully eradicated Red Fire Ants after their discovery several years ago.

Invasion of Europe by Red Fire Ants: Originating from China or United States

(source:internet, reference only)

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