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Invasive Ant Species in the US

As you read this, sales armies prepare for war.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers on each side are gearing up and preparing to take the field.  Troops have come from as far as South America and Asia for the ensuing battle as the Argentine Ant squares off against it’s (new) enemy, and the Asian Needle Ant! 

The Argentine Ant is considered by many to be the most invasive ant on earth, having insinuated itself into every available ecosystem once global travel carried the founders of future colonies to their respective continents.  Argentine Ants also boast one of the largest ant Super-colonies in the world, covering some 6000 kilometers in the Mediterranean region of Europe.  Truly a global traveler, Argentine ants have set the standard for invasive insects.

But now the Argentine Ant’s hegemony is being challenged by a smaller, less numerous competitor from half a world away, the a fore mentioned Asian Needle Ant.  The “Asian Needler” has chosen North Carolina as the first battle ground to put its enemy to the test.  Being the most recent import in the “Ant Invader” game, the Needlers certainly have their work cut out for them, especially considering the Argentine Ants long held dominance.  According to researchers in North Carolina State University, the Asian Needle Ants seem to be winning. Several biological advantages make the Needle Ants more efficient in this environment (tolerance to cold, shorter winter dormancy, etc). These adaptations are definitely an advantage but coupled with a nasty (to insects) sting, the Needle Ants have been establishing footholds and pushing back the previous invaders.

Take a look at the Scientific American Article here

So what does this mean to us in the North East, New Jersey in particular? Not much really, almost nothing…. for now.

This is just another chronicle of invasive species battling it out over control of what may as well be a foreign land (North Carolina isn’t exactly next door, after all).  But this chronicle will loose its academic objectivity as these new species of invasive Ant make their way north. As a matter of fact, some researchers have shown specimens are already in our back yard.    The School of Ants is an online collaboration of citizen scientists in an effort to quantify the taxa that lives under our very feet.  These very researchers have shown Needle Ant specimens as far north as Washington State and even New York City…. Close enough for you now?

Invasive species of any kind wreak havoc on the environment they move in to, often times the results of which are not noticed until years after spread and long enough after initial introduction that nothing can be done.  Case in point: deliberately and accidentally introduced species of invertebrates and mammals have decimated Australia’s fragile ecosystem with no chance to ever return to a “primeval” state.

Introduction and its impacts are usually irreversible and profound, potentially an ecological calamity in this case considering how integral local ant species are to their respective environments.

In the meantime, you can help keep tabs on invasive species.  Become a Citizen-Scientist attached to the Ant School and begin tracking the movements of these six legged interlopers by clicking here!