Invasive Ant Species Creeps Through Triangle

Mar 19, 2013

Researchers from N.C. State say an invasive species of ant is slowly spreading through North Carolina's forests.

An Asian Needle Ant (left) stings a termite. The ant is slowly invading nests of other invasive species in North Carolina.
Credit Benoit Guenard / NC State University

The study says the Asian Needle Ant is slowly pushing out other ants, including those known for being aggressive.  The ant cut the diversity of another invasive species in one area of the Triangle by nearly half in three years.  Scientists say the ant's invasion of peaceful species is starting a chain reaction that hurts the state's environment.

"They are picking out ants like the Winnow Ant that lives in our forest.  It's one of the most common ants here and the Asian Needle Ants wipe them out when they move in," says Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice, lead author of the study. 

"The Winnow Ant plants the herbaceous seeds across the forest floor.  When you take them out, nobody is planting those seeds.  Nobody is doing that job."

The Asian Needle Ant also carries a painful sting that causes an allergic reaction in some people.  Spicer Rice says the ant can nest nearly anywhere and survives in colder weather than most species.  She says more research is needed to determine exactly how quickly the ant is spreading.  The study appears in the February edition of the journal Plos One.