Ask the County Agent: ‘What do I need to know about Asian Needle Ants?’
By STEPHANIE BUTCHER, UGA Extension Coweta County Coordinator
QUESTION: What do I need to know about Asian Needle Ants here in Coweta County?
AGENT: County agents often get questions about things that require some research. This past month, I received just such a question. I had never had a report of Asian Needle Ants before, so I took the sample of ants in a jar and listened to the client’s description.
While moving a bale of hay, the client had been stung multiple times. Being from the Southeast, her first thought was fire ants. Frankly, that would have been my first thought too. But as I looked at the sample and the client continued; these were no fire ants.
She had no allergies of which she was aware, yet these ant stings caused a severe allergic reaction that came close to putting her in the hospital. After doing some research herself, she was certain that she had been stung by Asian Needle Ants and brought me a sample for confirmation.
Sure enough, after consulting with University of Georgia Extension entomologist, Dr. Dan Suiter, we received confirmation. These were Asian Needle Ants.
These non-native ants have been in Georgia since the 1930s, but they have been getting more attention as their populations have exploded in recent years. They are not aggressive like the more familiar fire ant, but they will sting when disturbed and their venom can be quite toxic—even fatal in some cases should sting victims suffer from anaphylaxis.
These ants are also invasive, meaning that they displace our native ant species. They can quickly devastate native ant populations by either taking over their nesting sites, eating their food or by directly preying on them. They are also active earlier in the spring before our native ants. This allows them to establish colonies before the native ants, so they tend to dominate available habitat earlier and can cause local extinctions of other ant species.
Also, unlike fire ants and Argentine ants (known as sugar ants), they do not build mounds, so it can be difficult to spot them. Asian Needle Ants establish colonies of up to a couple thousand ants by nesting under things like logs, stones, bark and as our client discovered…hay.
Many pest ant species lay down pheromones to help establish a well-defined foraging trail for other ants of the same colony to locate food sources, but the Asian Needle Ant does not forage in this manner. They instead exhibit a very unusual behavior called “tandem carrying,” where one female worker ant will carry another worker ant in her mandibles. Once a food source is located, she will put her sister down, and they will forage together.
It is likely that this ant is here to stay, but research has shown that Advion IG granular bait will work to help control them.
For more information about managing the Asian needle ant or other stinging insects, contact the Coweta County Extension office at 770-254-2620 or email [email protected].
Photo Credit: Joe MacGown, Mississippi State University