Just in time for the winter season, a new group of visitors has descended on South Florida. But they’re not friendly tourists.
An invasive species of yellow ants (Plagiolepis alluaudi) has arrived in the Riverland neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, researchers at the University of Florida have discovered.
These types of ants, natives of Madagascar, have never been seen outside of Hawaii in the United States, according to the experts.
The ants don’t bite or sting and are difficult to detect.
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“By the time you detect them, the colonies are so big and spread out that they are hard to control,” said Thomas Chouvenc, UF assistant professor of urban entomology based at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.
They’re also difficult to get rid of.
“Within a couple of days, the home infestation stopped,” Chouvenc said. “However, it had limited success because large ant populations are established outside of the home, and we only killed a small fraction of the foraging population. Within a week, subsequent infestations were observed.”
In addition to housing infestations, yellow ants can affect Florida’s agriculture because, according to the researchers, the new species is associated with aphids, the flies that can damage crops and ornamental plants.
Experts don’t know yet the consequences of the South Florida invasion.
The ants have managed to settle in several Caribbean islands such as Barbados, St. Lucia and the island of Nieves. UF researchers believe they may have traveled from the Caribbean or South America on boats or even potted plants.
They could have spread in South Florida with Hurricane Irma.
“With Hurricane Irma, a lot of plant debris dispersed during and after the storm,” Chouvenc said, “and may have helped disperse this new species of ant.”