A discovery of an ant supercolony in Ethiopia has scientists concerned about an impending global invasion.
This discovery is one of three that have recently come onto the radar — across multiple continents, suggesting a potential for the ants to take over new habitats as invasive species.
Supercolony formations defy evolutionary behavior, allowing for multiple nests of unrelated ant families to work and live together. These formations can grow at rapid rates, covering up to 30 meters in any direction per year. The phenomenon is relatively rare: only about 15-20 of the world’s 13,000 ant species have exemplified supercolony behavior.
The species of prime concern in Africa is Lepisiota canescens. Though native to Ethiopia, large numbers of the ants are currently spreading far from their home into degraded forests, agricultural lands, and urban structures. Several supercolonies were found working together, the largest spanning an impressive 38 kilometers (24 miles) — the biggest supercolony ever been recorded in history.
In a study published in Insectes Sociaux, a team of researchers from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and institutions in Ethiopia warns that this might only be the beginning.
Lepisiota have also recently wreaked havoc in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and more forebodingly, Australia’s Darwin Port. In the latter incident, the ants entered Australia by way of cargo ship, resulting in a situation that halted transportation for several days.
This event is the perfect example of why scientists are so concerned with the discovery of a new supercolony. A rise in modern tourism and global travel makes for easy movement of these ants to other countries and continents as invasive species, ensuring man’s participation in ants taking over the world.