In a recent study, researchers have made a significant discovery: the red fire ant, known as one of the world’s most troublesome invaders, has made its way to Europe for the very first time.
This particular ant, scientifically named Solenopsis invicta, hails from South America. However, over the last hundred years, it has managed to spread its presence to various parts of the globe, including the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, China, and Australia.
When they feel threatened, they can get quite aggressive. Their stings are not only painful but can also lead to skin irritation and even allergic reactions. Furthermore, these ants have the potential to harm crops and disrupt the local environment.
88 red fire ant nests found in Sicily
In a recent investigation, scientists have pinpointed a total of eighty-eight red fire ant nests across five hectares of land near the city of Syracuse in Sicily, Italy.
Lead researcher Mattia Menchetti, from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Spain, expressed concern, stating that S. invicta is one of the most troublesome invasive species known for its rapid expansion.
Invasive red fire ants confirmed in Italy—the species' first official sighting in Europe.
— Cell Press (@CellPressNews) September 11, 2023
He further mentioned that although the discovery of this species in Italy came as a surprise, they had anticipated this moment would eventually arrive.
While red fire ants had previously been detected in imported goods in Spain, Finland, and the Netherlands, this study marks the first confirmed colony in the region.
Wind could have transported flying queen ants
The ant colonies were discovered in a residential part of Syracuse. It remains a mystery as to how and when the fire ants made their way there.
The researchers involved in the study speculate that these insects may have arrived at a place bustling with human movement, possibly the city’s port. Moreover, locals informed scientists that ant stings have increased since 2019.
The study proposed that wind might have played a role in carrying flying queen ants from the northwest of Syracuse, which is where the commercial port is situated.
When scientists conducted genetic analysis on these ants, it strongly suggested that their origin could be traced back to the United States or China, both of which are home to the invasive species Solenopsis invicta.
The researchers issued a warning that these ants have the potential to rapidly extend their presence throughout Europe. This concern arises because approximately seven percent of the continent, including major cities such as Barcelona, Rome, London, and Paris, offer a climate perfectly suited to the needs of this species.