One of the world’s most feared creatures is heading to Britain, warns new research.
Its sting – described as “painful and irritating” – can cause pustules and allergic reactions, and may even trigger potentially deadly anaphylactic shock.
Originally from South America, the red fire ant, also known as Solenopsis invicta, has had a massive impact on ecosystems, agriculture and human health in several countries around the world.
Now, researchers have identified 88 red fire ant nests spread over five hectares near the city of Syracuse on the Italian island of Sicily.
They say the colonies could have come from China or the United States, where it is also an invasive species.
Ecological models developed as part of the study show “alarming” predictions about the colonization potential of the ant in Europe, which could be aided by climate change.
The invasive species could potentially establish itself across seven percent of Europe, according to the study published in the journal Current Biology.
In less than a century, the ant has spread across much of the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, China, Taiwan and Australia, and has only been eradicated in New Zealand.
Its presence in the United States has caused an estimated loss of more than £5 billion per year, while countries including Australia allocate millions to its eradication, but with little success.
Before the new study, S. invicta had been found occasionally among imported products in Spain, Holland and Finland, but its establishment on the continent had never been confirmed.
PHOTO BY OKTAVIANUS MULYADI/UNSPLASH
Using genetic analysis, researchers concluded that the population detected in Sicily probably originated in China or the United States, but the route of entry is unknown.
The colonies are located in a suburban area of the city of Syracuse, Sicily, comprising an estuary and a natural park.
Study leader Roger Vila of Spain’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), said: “It is an isolated area, so it is unlikely that it was the first point of entry to the island.”
The team concluded that the entry point must have been a “transit” area with human activity- such as the commercial port of the city of Syracuse.
Analysis of the wind direction indicate that some flying queen ants could have arrived from the northwest, where the port of Syracuse is located and where the team has recommended monitoring for the ants.
Study first author Mattia Menchetti said: “The public could play a key role in the detection of S. invicta, considering that it is frequently found in urban and adjacent areas.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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