The Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, is one of the most successful invasive species in the world, having colonized parts of five continents in addition to its native range in South America. A new study sheds light on the secrets of its success.
The findings, from scientists at the University of Illinois and the University of California at San Diego, appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Argentine ant is tiny, aggressive and adaptable, traits that have helped it in its transit around the world. Once seen only in South America, the ant is now found in parts of Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South Africa. It most likely made its way to these destinations on ships carrying soil or agricultural products.
Under the right conditions, the Argentine ant marches through a new territory, wiping out - by eating and out-competing - most of the native ants and a number of other insects. In the process it radically alters the ecology of its new home.
The Argentine ant thrives in a warm climate with abundant water, and is often found on agricultural lands or near cities. But it also invades natural areas, said U. of I. entomology professor Andrew Suarez, principal investigator on the new study. The ant is highly social, and sometimes forms immense "super-colonies" made up of millions workers spread over vast territories. In prior research, Suarez identified a super-colony in California that stretched from San Diego to San Francisco.