Ant wars: Battle of the invasive species

There's a war on in America, pitting invasive ant against invasive ant in a fight to the finish. It's sort of like Alien vs. Predator, in a way, because whoever wins ... we lose. Argentine ants (the reigning champions) have wiped out native ant species in many of the environments they've invaded over the years, affecting the survival of other animals that used to feed on those ants. Worse, they have a fondness for certain agricultural pests, like aphids. In places with lots of Argentine ants, aphids do very well — and plants do worse.

But now the Argentines are facing a serious challenge in the form of Asian needle ants, another invasive species that — for reasons nobody really understands — have suddenly gone from minor player to major threat in the last decade. The big downside to Asian needle ants: They sting. They sting us. And, right now, it looks like they're winning.

John Roach tells the story at NBC News. But you can get a good idea of what this matchup looks like by checking out the work of insect photographer Alex Wild. That's his picture above, showing an Argentine ant on the left and an Asian needle ant on the right.


  1. What about the fire ants (RIFA)? Those little bastards inject solenopsin, which put me into anaphylactic shock when I was first stung at the age of six. They are so invasive and effective that a colony will wipe out lizards, birds, and other insects in a radius around their nest. They tend to swarm first and sting in unison. I’ve also seen them form into floating balls or masses to escape rising waters. My father would dump a gallon of gas on the nests, let it soak in, and set it aflame just to get the ant numbers down quickly.

    1. Yeah, we’ve been dealing with stinging ants down south since before the Dust Bowl. I’ve done the Southern Fire Ant Dance on many occasions, and then doused my legs with Raid.

  2. It’s their world, we just live in it.

    The thing I don’t quite understand about the Argentines is that supposedly a key part of their rise in North America is due to their ability to build super-colonies (actually, my father says there are two, and that the border is somewhere in San Diego or something where there are piles of ant corpses marking their constant warfare). The supercolonies arise because the queens from neighboring colonies are so genetically close that workers don’t recognize one another as rivals.

    So naively, it seems to me a mitigation for the Argentines would be to import a large number of distinct queens, get them started, and then see if once they can no longer super-colony (a verb now) the natives have a better chance of competing.

    1. To fight the bug, we must understand the bug.  How about giving one of these to every child in America.

  3. When I painted billboards around Crystal River Fla., my helper stepped on a red ant hill.  As the ants covered him, he stripped naked while I poured mineral spirits all over him.  All this in front of drivers going by along the interstate.
    To this day, I say better him than me.

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