First there was one; then there were two – and before long there were billions of them. Invasive ants have managed to form super-colonies that have the potential to grow indefinitely.
Ants normally form colonies with only one nest and one queen. But for 15-20 of the world’s 12,643 known ant species, this isn’t enough: they form super-colonies with multiple nests and many queens. This enables them to spread over large areas and wipe out other ant species.
According to Jes Søe Pedersen, of the Department of Biology, at the University of Copenhagen. “It looks as if the ants defy evolution, and we’re eager to figure out how that’s even possible,” “We have notrouble with understanding how evolution has created the classic ant colony,”says Pedersen. “The workers work for their sisters – new queens – and their brothers – males. It gets a bit trickier to understand when the workers work for other ants’ sisters and brothers, as is done in super-colonies. According to the laws of evolution, you only need to help out your relatives. But we’re seeing ant colonies so big that all the ants cannot possibly be related. So why are they helping one another? That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he says.
Argentine Ants are now present on most continents.
The ant species that formed this massive super-colony originates from Argentina. It has spread to Europe, the USA, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Hawaii from a super-colony that came from South America more than 100 years ago, partly via ship cargo.
The largest Argentine Ant super-colony in the world was discovered in 2000 in Southern Europe. The size of this super-colony is amazing. Spread over 4000 miles near the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, it actually consists of two super-colonies, with 33 populations consisting of millions of queens and billions of workers. They’re working together to create this gigantic society covering a larger distance than many of the world’s countries.
In Southern California, the Argentine ant is the No. 1 pest that extermination companies are hired to get rid of, UCSD researchers say. They have displaced more than 50 species of native ants, some ten times their size, to establish a “super-colony” that stretches from San Diego almost to the Oregon border.
What is also important, is to understand that the dominance of these ants can cause a ripple effect in the ecosystem as they eliminate other native ant species as well as other insects. This alters the food base for species further up in the food chain.
One big family
According to scientists, whenever ants from the main European and Californian super-colonies and those from the largest colony in Japan came into contact, they acted as if they were old friends.
These ants rubbed antennae with one another and never became aggressive or tried to avoid one another.
In short, they acted as if they all belonged to the same colony, despite living on different continents separated by vast oceans.
Red Imported Fire Ants causing havoc in the U.S.
The red imported fire ant is also native to South America and has been accidentally introduced in Australia, New Zealand, several Asian and Caribbean countries and the United States.
Red imported fire ants are dominant in their chosen areas of infestation and live in a wide variety of habitats. They can be found in: rain forests, in disturbed areas, deserts, grasslands, alongside roads and buildings, and in electrical equipment.
In the US, the red American fire ant has had an iron grip on the country since the 1930s. This ant is also imported from Argentina, but unlike the Argentine Ant, it’s nasty sting is painful and sometimes hazardous to animals and humans alike. It’s sting is equivalent to that of a bee with the same dangers involved.
According to researchers, “Trying to fight the red imported fire ant on a large scale is hopeless. It’s costing the US billions of dollars every year to fight this ant, to compensate for losses of crops and to provide medication for animals and for people who have been stung.
Other ants that have formed Super-Colonies:
Ethopia, Africa – The infamous ant species, Lepisiota canescens, is demonstrating the behavior needed for super-colony formation and global domination.
Australia, Christmas Island, Indonesia – The Yellow Crazy Ant, Anoplolepis gracilipes, is an extremely successful and resourceful species, and considered to be one of the worst invasive species on earth. When disturbed they move around in a frantic motion, hence the name ‘crazy’ ants. They are aggressive and competitive to other ants and insects and this enables them
to out‐compete and displace other species and dominate food resources. These ants have spread through tropical and sub‐tropical zones of much of the world by ‘hitching’ rides with human produce and materials.
What will happen when all of these super-colonies meet?
A titanic “War” for world domination!