Ant invasion – How pets can become pests

The aquarium was unable to take in all of the animals that were offered, and I wondered what became of all those unwanted pets. Some likely found new homes. Others were released into local ponds or parks.

A female Burmese Python weighing 43 kilograms, measuring four meters long, was found in Naples, Florida, just a few meters from upscale housing developments. The majority of experts believe that released pet pythons created a breeding population around the mid-1990s.

Researchers at the University of Lausanne have warned that pet trade contributes to the spread of invasive animals around the world. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found that many traded pets were invasive species. This means they established natural populations in new areas.

The pets include not only larger animals, which are often released into the wild after they grow out of their cages, like Burmese Pythons that have infested the Florida Everglades, but also ants, a relatively recent and apartment-friendly animal.

Ants make popular pets

I am a myrmecologist. I keep ant colonies in my laboratory for research. At one time, I had almost 100 live ant colony for study comparing native and invasive ants as seed-dispersers.

I collect queens and workers of wild ants from a biology station nearby and place them in test tubes that I partially fill with moist cotton and wrap in tin-foil. The test tubes are kept moist and dark by wrapping them in tin foil and partially filling them with wet cotton.

The queen ant in the ant farm starter tube. (Shutterstock)

Ants are becoming increasingly popular as pets. They are both easy to maintain and fascinating to observe. According to a PNAS report, there are at least 65 websites that sell and ship ants around the world.

As a myrmecologist, I’m thrilled that other people find joy in ants. Ants are social animals that play an important role in ecosystems. They can also do some truly amazing things.

Some ants use their bodies to create floating bridges or rafts in order to cross water. Some ants are smart enough to remember and figure out the shortest route home.

One of the ant types that I am studying poisons all other plants with formic acids to create huge gardens of host plants in Amazon rain forest. Over 15,000 species of ants live on Earth. They are found on all continents except Antarctica. Ants even went to space.

Ants are my favorite insects, so I don’t understand why people want them as pets.

Ants can solve problems by working together. They may even build a bridge across an open area to transport food.

Invasive species, such as pet ants, can be a problem

Some ant species can be very dangerous pests.

Five ant types — Argentine ants (red imported fire ants), yellow crazy ants (little fire ants), and big-headed ants (big-headed ants) — are listed among the 100 worst invasive species of the world, because they have devastating effects on local ecosystems. Invasive ants can compete with native insectsharm burrow and ground-nesting birds, and spread other pest species.

The PNAS study revealed that 520 species of ants are traded as pet ants. Of those, 57 (or 11%) are considered invasive. This compares to only 1.7% of all ant species. The pet trade of ants is so new that it’s unlikely pet owners introduced those invasive species to other parts of the globe.

The new research shows that animals with the same traits as pets are also good invaders. Invasive species of ants often have colonies that contain more than one queen. Ant species with multiple queens also make more successful pets.

Yellow crazy ants attack a gecko. (Dinakarr/Wikimedia)

We take extra precautions to ensure that our ants don’t escape because some of the species I study are invasive. My lab mates and I also do this. The test tubes with the ant’s nests are placed in Tupperware containers coated with Fluon. Fluon is a white milky resin that makes walls so smooth that ants cannot climb them. We then place the containers on shelves with legs that rest on little bowls filled with mineral oil. If an ant dashes the door, the oil will catch her before she can reach the exit.

People who keep ants and other invasive species as pets are not always as careful.

There is a simple solution: Do some research when choosing a pet and choose a native species to your area.

Even ant enthusiasts can collect a colony in their locality. There are many different ant species around the world. Remember that you need to find a Queen to keep your settlement alive. Sit back and enjoy your love for ants.

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