Friday, 1 April 2016

Another pesky Ant

Residents of the Far North of Queensland have to put up with a number of invasive species ranging from Cane Toads to Feral Cats. Ants seem to head the list these days with Yellow Crazy Ants, Anopolepsis gracilipes, among the worst and with a ability to do terrific damage to local animals, large and small.
Yellow Crazy Ant from the web
The ecological destructiveness of these ants is documented in the recent edition of the Kuranda Newspaper. And their potential disaster to northern forests is discussed in an article by Steve Turton on the threat of invasive ants to the Wet Tropics. 

Several other ants have dangerous potential. The Electric Ant, Wasmannia auropunctata, are a tiny ants. They are under 1.5 mm in length and establish colonies everywhere. They attack ground dwelling animals and seem to head for the eyes of the victim. They both sting as well as bite and they are notable because they can occur in the thousands. They have been found in several localities and there is a big push to exterminate them before they "get away". 
Electric Ant biting a human from the web
But the reason for this blog is to report on another ant with which every resident of Kuranda, at least, is familiar. The are the "little black ants" that show up from out of nowhere in the kitchen where they seem to eat most foods. A knife left on the sink with some peanut butter, a sugar bowl, a dish with bread crumbs or a dinner plate with odd bits left and these ants will appear and, if left to their own devices, they will accumulate by the hundreds.
 They don't seem to be particularly distinctive. But my colleague Dr Lori Lach identified them as the imported African Big-headed Ant, Pheidole megacephala.
The "Big-headed" comes from the large-headed soldiers that usually accompany groups of the ants. It is thought that the large muscles inside the head are used to crush seeds or dismember tough-bodied insects. These ants build small colonies that can be identified by bits of wood and frass that accumulate on widow sills, breaks in concrete and the like.

Controlling African Big-headed ants is a real problem. They seem to "delight" in the various ant baits that are available in local shops. Nothing seems to work. If any readers have suggestions, please offer them. 

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