Protecting the Home Front
It’s red, tiny, eats everything, active during both day and night, stings humans as well as pets and displaces other arthropods. Meet the little fire ant – the smallest and scariest invader to reach our homes.
Ramat Hanadiv Forum met during November to become better acquainted with the little fire ant and hear from our experts if and what can be done – both in private homes and in public areas – in order to eradicate this invader.
Who are you, little fire ant? (Not) nice to meet you…
The little fire ant – named because of its red colour and sting that burns like fire – has earned the doubtful title of one of the hundred most harmful invasive species in the world.
The little fire ant is a tiny ant – the workers are about 1.5 mm long, while the queen and the males reach about 4.5 mm. It is omnivorous, slow relative to most ant species, originates in South America, and although it prefers warm, moist habitats it populates and exploits a wide range of habitats, including lawns, trees, houses, agricultural fields and natural landscapes in dozens of countries around the world, including Israel.
Its main source of dispersal is nurseries, from which the ant spreads via pot plants, compost, soil and gardening equipment.
The ant was first identified in Israel in late 2005, in the Jordan River region, and since then has spread throughout the country; to date the little fire ant has invaded about three hundred and twenty settlements around Israel.
When the little fire ant population establishes, it causes severe damage to the ecosystem, including predation and displacement of other arthropods and rodents, and stings that cause blindness and even death to both small and large pets – from chickens to cats and dogs – and constitutes a severe hazard to humans due to its painful stings that resemble burns.
These stings drive a process that culminates in broad economic damage – the main victim is tourism, but agriculture also suffers, with disturbance and slowing down of agricultural work and prevention of agricultural exports. The damage is so severe that experts expect that by 2030 the economic damage caused by this ant to Israel will exceed one billion dollars per year.
So what do we do?
Last November, Ramat Hanadiv Forum met to become better acquainted with the little fire ant, and with the efforts that have been made to find a solution for eradicating the invasion of this little fire ant, one year after employees and visitors at Ramat Hanadiv began to feel the presence of the red little fire ant.
A field survey proved that this small invader had indeed reached Ramat Hanadiv.
Ittai Renan, head of the Entomology Lab for Applied Ecology at Tel Aviv University, introduced the Forum to the little fire ant, describing the range of problems it brings, and reviewed the monitoring and control actions that were performed in the Memorial Gardens during 2018, in close partnership with Ramat Hanadiv’s research and horticultural staff.
After three rounds of pest control of the little fire ant population at Ramat Hanadiv – accompanied by monitoring of the recovery of the community of arthropods and soil dwellers in the Gardens (using special traps), as well as that of bees and butterflies – the little fire ant population shrank significantly but was not completely eradicated.
The Ramat Hanadiv research staff concluded that the little fire ant is a global problem that should be managed and monitored continuously, and that in order to minimize the population of this little red invader we should join efforts in many ways, some of which are implemented at Ramat Hanadiv.
Since nurseries are the main source of dispersal, the Ministry for Environmental Protection is currently formulating a green standard for nurseries to prevent dispersal of the little fire ant, inter alia.
Until such a standard exists, seedlings and other horticultural materials are not being brought into Ramat Hanadiv without prior inspection, and all seedlings are monitored continuously, as is the level of infection in the Gardens themselves.
In parallel, we must prepare descriptive information about this topic for all levels of the population – from nursery workers, through seedling and plant importers, to homeowners. The meeting of Ramat Hanadiv Forum is part of our efforts to inform and educate the entire population about the little fire ant, in the hope of reducing its population.
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