In the United States, one of the most harmful pests among the ants is the red imported fire ant. The fire ant got their name from their burning stings. The fire ants are a small stinging species that was accidentally introduced from South America. These ants are a total pest because they disrupt mechanized farming, damage crops and they kill wild stock and wild life. The aggressive insects have also invaded the Galapagos Islands and parts of the South Pacific, including New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. Now many scientists fear that these ants might be moving to West Africa and reason for that they fear that is the ants could possibly blinding elephants there. People believe that the ants have spread to more places mainly by human commerce. One theory for the ants appearance in Melanesia is that the ants were stowaways on ships transporting heavy logging equipment.
Fire ants have been compared with weeds: they tolerate many different conditions and they can spread very quickly. James K. Wetterer, and entomologist at Florida Atlantic university once entrenched, fire ants are extremely difficult to dislodge. The department of agriculture is studying weather in the places where fire ants are. They are doing this to see if they introduce to the regions a species of a Brazilian fly that is natural parasite of these fire ants.
On the Galapagos these fire ants are eating the hatchlings of tortoises. They also attack, even though they are very small, the eyes of adult reptiles in the Galapagos Islands. ?It is rather hideous,? notes James P. Gibbs, an environmental scientist at the S.U.N.Y. College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. In the Solomon Islands fire ants also have caused people and the environment a big problem. In the Solomon Islands these fire ants have taken over large areas where birds lay there eggs, and from around those areas say that these fire have sometimes been blinding dogs over there. ?It is a disaster there?. When these invasive ants come in, they change everything!? Wetterer notes.
Although that people do not know the exact range of the fire ants in West Africa, people estimate that the fire ants have encroached more than 600 kilometers (375 miles) along the coastland and something around 250 kilometers in towards the middle of the land. The fire ants are very small but they can travel very fast. Near some of these areas for example in Gabon people have been noticing that elephants sometimes have white, cloudy eyes and they often behave very strangely. The reason they claim is that these elephants have been attacked by those fire ants and these fire ants stab them in the eyes and now the elephants are blind. Peter D. Walsh, a population ecologist with the Wildlife Conversation Society in Bronx, New York, says that these fire ants might be culprit. Based on the dog problem in the Solomon Islands and his personal experience with several Gabon house cats that lived in home infested with fire ants and they later developed a similar eye malady.
Ecologist also fear that the damage with in some time could become a lot greater. In New Caledonia the fire ants have benefited the population of scale insects, which produce honeydew on plants. The excess honeydew reportedly promotes a fungus that covers the plant leaves, altering their photosynthesis. Especially troubling is that the fire ant does seem to have very few natural predators in his new habitats.
Most scientist claim, however, that most of the evidence of fire ant damage is anecdotal and that before drawing any conclusion we much work needs to be done. Walsh, who monitors elephants in Gabon says: ?That is the ironic thing. I have been worried about poaching and deforestation, and what could eventually kill these huge animals (elephants) are the tiny little ants!?
I have now been talking a lot about those fire ants and I hope that I have been able to demonstrate how many problems these small ants are really causing our environment. The reason for I decided to chose that article is that I think people do not fully realize that such a small species can be so irritating. People think instead that mice, rats, some birds and wild animals such as the lion are the species that are threatening our environment the most. This is not the case. In the regions where these fire ants are they are greatly threatening the environment for example by blinding elephants and other animals, killing reptiles that produce important things for plants and by eating and destroying eggs that birds have been laying.
1. The Scientific American February issue 1999, p. 14-15.
2. The Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, version 1999.