For the first time, the “electric ant” has been spotted in France. Origin, characteristics, dangerousness, damage… The Midi Dispatch make the point.
Wasmannia auropunctata, also called “electric ant” or “little fire ant”, was detected for the first time in metropolitan France. Here’s what you need to know.
Native to South America
The “electric ant” is extremely invasive. “Original from South America, it is now found everywhere”, explains Dr Audrey Dussutour, Director of Research at the CNRS in Toulouse and author of the book. The Odyssey of the Ants. “In West Africa, the Galapagos, the United States, Polynesia, or even recently in China”.
Until now, this species had only been revealed once in Europe, in the region of Malaga in Spain.
A super-colony discovered in Toulon
At the beginning of September, Olivier Blight, researcher at the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology at the University of Avignon, formally identified the species in the south of France, in Toulon. “We were already dealing with a super-colony, so we think it has been there for over a year,” he explained.
Probably delivered “during a transport of plants”, the ant has already been revealed up to 100 meters from the residence.
A microscopic ant that stings
This red colored ant is microscopic. It measures barely 1 millimeter. “It is problematic because unlike the Argentine ant, another invasive ant that we have had in France for a long time, it stings”. Its sting causes a sensation of nettle, stronger and longer, which can last 2-3 hours.
Another peculiarity: this ant does not integrate very complicated nests. “It will nest on anything that is a bit warm and shady. Under a rock, in leaf litter, in a pile of moss, but also in electrical outlets, vehicles, pallets, furniture, piles of rubbish… She’s quite opportunistic”.
They can destroy insects
Its behavior also evolves with the number of individuals that are in its environment. “When she is not dominant, she is not too aggressive. But as soon as she becomes dominant, she becomes very aggressive with ants of another species. On the other hand, her aggressiveness towards ants of the same species decreases”.
Thanks to its sting, it can destroy insects. In New Caledonia, “in the forests it has invaded, we no longer hear any insect sounds,” said Olivier Blight.
Dangerous for pets and allergy sufferers
Wasmannia auropunctata is dangerous for pets. “Cases of blindness have been recorded in pets because they sting in the eyes,” says Dr. Audrey Dussutour.
In humans, especially in farmers, the bites are painful. “In the coffee plantations, in Colombia, it’s a disaster”. The electric ant can also cause anaphylactic shock in people with allergies.
They are able to clone themselves
Electric ants have a particular reproductive system. “They can reproduce sexually, in other words a male with a female, but also asexually, that is to say that they can clone themselves. This makes it possible to invade a territory quite easily”.
Another characteristic: these ants are thermotolerant. “From 1°C to 43°C, they can show some form of activity. Global warming does not help. The more the minimum temperature that these ants can withstand increases, the more they can adapt to Mediterranean climates “.
They can ravage gardens
“If you have a density of nests per hectare which is enormous, it can ravage your garden, because it will ravage its biodiversity. If you make one species disappear in favor of another, it will create an imbalance. So in a garden , it can be catastrophic”, explains Dr Audrey Dussutour.
Man also has his share of responsibility in the proliferation of the insect. “Urbanization and agricultural land have created niches for these ants to settle in.”
A cost of millions of dollars
The eradication of the electric ant has enormous costs. In Queensland, Australia, which it has colonized since 2006, 30 million dollars have already been dedicated to the fight against Wasmannia auropunctata.
Olivier Blight wishes to “communicate as much as possible to raise awareness among the general public”, in particular to access the residences neighboring the first outbreak detected. “We must very quickly make a precise delimitation of the invasion zone to develop an eradication plan”, pleads the researcher, comparing the strategy to that put in place by the authorities in the presence of tiger mosquitoes.