The exotic ant trade in perspective

Solenopsis invicta, the red imported fire ant

A news story from Australia this morning reminds us how most pest ants move around the world:

Fire ants have been found in a box of mining equipment shipped from the US to Queensland’s Western Downs, sparking fears the deadly ants may have spread.

Staff at a Roma mining company found the fire ants at the base of a crate and sprayed them immediately, but Biosecurity Queensland is inspecting the site and neighbouring properties in case they have spread.

The crate had been shipped from Houston, Texas, an area known to be infested with fire ants, and tests on Tuesday confirmed the ants found in Roma were red imported fire ants.

In our recent discussions of exotic ant traders, a common rationale for allowing commerce in ants is that, whatever volume of ants is mailed about among myrmecological enthusiasts, it is dwarfed by the volume moved about in potted plants and general shipping. And this observation is absolutely true. In the big picture, globalization is the force behind the recent intensity of pest ant invasions. Any real containment of the invasive species problem has to focus primarily on stronger security for general commerce.

Ultimately, though, as a rationale I find the ant-keepers’ argument unconvincing. It is like justifying shoplifting because Bernie Madoff’s crimes are higher volume. The lesser of two evils still isn’t good.

19 thoughts on “The exotic ant trade in perspective”

    1. (Paul Decelles from KU in the 70s?! You never know whom you’ll run into on the internets. :} )

      Anyway, Alex, I certainly never menat to defend the exotic ant trade by pointing to the greater sins of global trade. but as you say, “Any real containment of the invasive species problem has to focus primarily on stronger security for general commerce.”

  1. So your next step will be forbidding barbecues since they produce CO2 and CO2 is one reason for global warming. So by forbidding them you will reduce the green house effect.

    But barbecue enthusiasts will argue that cars’ influence on global warming is a lot bigger and driving cars is legal.

    But you can tell them:

    Ultimately, though, as a rationale I find the barbecuse enthusiasts’ argument unconvincing. It is like justifying shoplifting because Bernie Madoff’s crimes are higher volume. The lesser of two evils still isn’t good.

    1. I’m glad you mention CO2 emissions, because that issue is an interesting parallel.

      I’d support a tax on the legal trade of ornamental plants & exotic animals- including ants- in order to better fund screening of shipments. It places the cost of preventing invasive species more firmly on the shoulders of those who are likely to spread them, rather than selfishly making everyone else bear the cost. This is akin to a carbon tax.

      1. Why not, that would be at least better than forbidding it. But don’t think that governments will really use that tax for that purpose.

        But maybe that could be some kind of agreement ant keepers (at least most I think) could live with and you too?

        1. There is middle ground I’d find acceptable. I think it should work on building up a list of certified species rather than assuming all ants are fair game and then banning a select few.

          The ants that scare me the most on the European trading sites are the “Pheidole sp.” and such that haven’t been identified to species. Who knows whether they pose a risk if we don’t even know what they are? New pests are emerging all the time from previously innocuous groups (example: Lasius neglectus, Pachycondyla chinensis).

      2. One problem is that nobody has demonstrated that CO2 increasing has any significant effect on climate nor have they demonstrated that the increasing CO2 comes from human sourced combustion, which comprises ~3-5 % of global CO2 sources. It might but it might not as well. Certainly the observed point 8 degree C temp increase (yes, that IS .8 C total average increase) over the last century is well within normal climactic variation and not much of a problem in any case.

        We do know however that increased CO2 acts as a plant fertilizer and experimental evidence indicates global increases in biomass production due to CO2 increases. Global warming does not cause dental caries, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, bad breath in dogs, reef die offs, extinction of polar bears, overwhelming ocean acidification, nor any of the other thousands of bullcrap ascribed to it. Well, OK, perhaps it does cause bad breath in dogs./sarc

        Government needs to be smaller – the only way to get that is to give them less money. This is a good idea in any case since those morons can never seem to spend it properly anyway. If you want to have more taxes, nobody is stopping you from sending a check or 12 any time you want. But keep out of MY pocket.

        We are up to well on our way to over 1,000,000,000 bucks lost on bankrupt government green subsidies in 2+ years intended to bootstrap solutions to non-existent CO2 problems. They could have spent that on APHIS inspectors and pesticide/fumigants for ALL imports and exports and gotten back 900 million in change. Too bad that 450 million of that 1,000 is borrowed from our kids just like 40-45% of all the rest of the 3,700,000,000,000 dollars in our current federal spending.

        GIVE. ME. A. BREAK.

        1. Maybe I missed the internet-bus; this IS the road, Joshua.

          Hey, Alex, I didn’t raise the tax carbon non-issue, I just respond to the absurd suggestion.

          For that matter, why don’t you suggest taxing the Oxygen ? You could get twice as much money that way because it is, after all, CO2 ROFL. Better yet, just tax the number 2 !

        2. Ok, I’ll “bite”. 😉

          Three-quarters of climate change is man-made

          Quirin Schiermeier

          04 December 2011

          Natural climate variability is extremely unlikely to have contributed more than about one-quarter of the temperature rise observed in the past 60 years, reports a pair of Swiss climate modellers in a paper published online today. Most of the observed warming — at least 74 % — is almost certainly due to human activity, they write in Nature Geoscience.

    2. I find the CO2 argument rather silly. All organisms that do aerobic respiration produce CO2. Thus, if I understand you, we might well should forbid this. Sorry, that doesn’t wash for this particular example.

      1. That is the reason why I chose barbecues since both barbecues and ant trading aren’t mandatory for surviving, breathing is.

        So you didn’t understand me properly,

  2. Madoff’s crime and shoplifting have not the same consequences.

    For ants, it is not the same volume, but consequences are the same if a tramp specie escapes. It spreads.
    Ants mailed or moved in potted plants are equal threats.
    You can focus on general commerce, there’s still a (hazardeous) back door.

    I would compare being in contact with 1 virus versus being in contact with one million. At the end, you’re sick in both cases.

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