Why I don’t trust the ant traders, exhibit A

Here is the peer-reviewed statement about the fire ant Solenopsis geminata‘s pest potential, written by professional biologists at IUCN:

Solenopsis geminata has spread almost world-wide by human commerce. It usually invades open areas but can easily colonise human infrastructure and agricultural systems, such as coffee and sugarcane plantations in hot climates. Its greatest known threats are its painful sting and the economic losses due to crop damage caused by its tending of honeydew-producing insects. Solenopsis geminata is known to reduce populations of native butterfly eggs and larvae. It has the potential to displace native ant populations, but is susceptible to competitive pressures from some other ant species.

Here are myrmecologists from the University of California/Davis reviewing Solenopsis geminata‘s pest credentials in the Pacific Islands:

Solenopsis geminata is commonly referred to as the Tropical Red Fire Ant. It is an aggressive species with a painful sting and is known to cause damage to ecological and agricultural systems.

Here’s what My Ant Shop– an exotic ant business that ships Asian ants to the UK- says about Solenopsis geminata:

This is not the dangerous invasive fire ant which is called Solenopsis invicta.

Granted, the proprietor does note that the ant stings and requires buyers to sign a waiver. But seriously. Why sell a pest ant at all?

9 thoughts on “Why I don’t trust the ant traders, exhibit A”

  1. Gotta love understatements! EO Wilson himself thinks that S. geminata was one of the ants behind the historical ant scourges recorded from the West Indies.

    Hmmm, it would be interesting to figure out the mechanism behind the differences in worker polymorphism in S. geminata vs. S. invicta…

  2. What they intend you to take away from that statement:

    “This is not a dangerous invasive ant.”

    What the statement actually says:

    “This is not *that particular* dangerous invasive ant.”

    Misdirection without outright lying…

  3. What bothers me about antstore.net is that usually the German descriptions differ from the English ones. I can read both languages (English better than German though) and sometimes the differences are quite large. For instance: required temperatures for ant species are often marked as ‘non sensitive’ in English, while clearly stating an above room temperature required for survival in German.

  4. S. geminata is unable to survive in climates where the temperature drops below 10 degrees C for any length of time. Even in tropical habitats it only becomes a pest species where the climate is considered as being hot and dry. It does not even like tropical climates which are humid and wet. In Thailand for example although it is well known for its painful sting it has not become a serious pest. It does frequently however follow man around the globe establishing itself in the desert like habitats mankind seems to leave behind wherever he goes! There are no prizes for guessing which is the most destructive species!!!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Peter. While it is true that tropical fire ants are inviable in the wild in Europe, I am more generally concerned that establishing a species like this as a commonly traded species (like, say, Lasius niger) it will become more traded elsewhere, including places where it poses more of a danger.

      I intended my post partly as commentary on public relations for the exotic animal industry. If traders would like to avoid the worst of future regulations, they’d do well to stay away from selling blatantly damaging pests.

  5. In Europe there is a very common species called Myrmica rubra which is traded by all the ant shops at very low prices. This species has however become established in America and Canada where it is called the European Fire Ant and considered a damaging invasive species! In Europe it is one of the recommended species to be kept by new hobbyists – many of which are very young and is widely traded and collected. Anyone considering trying to ban this species from the trade because it was an invasive species would be considered a crackpot! Who draws the line on what is considered invasive and what should or should not be traded?

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