Red Fire Ant Nests Have Been Discovered in Italy

Recently, an insect known for its nasty sting has been making headlines. For the first time ever, established red fire ant nests were found in Europe. 88 nests spanning an area of almost 12 acres were discovered near Syracuse, a small town located in Sicily, Italy. Increases in reports of ant stings have led researchers to suspect that red fire ants have been in the area since 2019. They are expected to spread further throughout Europe as time goes on.

The red imported fire ant (Solenopsis Invicta) is an ant species native to South America. Worker ants are usually reddish-brown in color and range from ⅛ to ¼ inch long. Colonies can have a single queen (monogynic) or multiple queens working together to create a supercolony (polygynic) and colony sizes often range from 100,000 to 500,000 ants. What red fire ants are most known for, however, is their painful stings. Unlike the carpenter ants that inhabit Grand Rapids, fire ants will attack without hesitation, using their mandibles to latch onto skin before using their back stinger to inject venom. A single ant can sting multiple times in a row, moving in a semi-circle pattern. Stings cause pain, itchiness, and pustules.

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Red fire ants are also known to be incredibly invasive. They have spread to the United States, Mexico, China, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries, likely through the shipping and transport of goods. In their native region, the ants play a critical role in the ecosystem. Their populations are kept in check by natural predators such as birds, other insects, and spiders. But, in other environments, they face much less competition and spread quickly, making them extremely difficult to eradicate.

So what does this mean for Italy, and consequently the rest of Europe? The toll will likely be severe in various ways. First, red fire ants can have a harmful impact on local ecosystems. They are known to prey on native species and cause competition for resources. Insects are particularly vulnerable due to the fire ant’s tendency to destroy eggs and larvae of fellow insects, reducing their populations. Red fire ants pose a threat to agriculture as well – they often eat seeds and damage young plants, harming the yields of farmers. Additionally, the price of dealing with red fire ants is high. It’s estimated that the US spends $6 billion a year on red fire ant related damage, control efforts, and medical treatment. Similarly, Australia spends millions on eradication programs in order to protect their unique ecosystems.

Fortunately, there are some potential solutions. Italy could look to countries dealing with existing invasive populations of red fire ants and, specifically, New Zealand. The Pacific country just off the Eastern coast of Australia has successfully eradicated red fire ants multiple times with the implementation of a surveillance and treatment program. The areas in which the nests were found were vigorously monitored, and goods coming in and out of the area were carefully inspected. Insecticides were used to destroy the nests that were found.

The spread of red fire ants will prove to be a difficult challenge for Italy as there’s no easy way to eradicate established fire ant populations. Fortunately, however, Italy can utilize methods from other countries who have spent years combating this species. With proper control, the damage caused by red fire ants can be minimized.


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