The forests of Ethiopia are teeming with a supercharged ant that is poised to invade the globe, new research suggests.
The infamous ant species, Lepisiota canescens, is demonstrating the behavior needed for supercolony formation and for global invasion — (insect world domination, anyone?), the researchers say.
“The species we found in Ethiopia may have a high potential of becoming a globally invasive species,” study author D. Magdalena Sorger, a postdoctoral researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, said in a statement. “Invasive species often travel with humans, so as tourism and global commerce to this region of Ethiopia continue to increase, so will the likelihood that the ants could hitch a ride, possibly in plant material or even in the luggage of tourists.
“All it takes is one pregnant queen,” she added. “That’s how fire ants started.” [Gallery of Zombie Ants]
Typically, ants form coloniesmade up of one nest and ruled by one queen. But about 20 different ant species — think of them as the Romans or the Incas of the insect world — have their sights set on building an empire. These ants form so-called supercolonies comprising many nests with many queens. Supercolonies can contain billions of individuals that swarm out across the landscape and wipe out their ant neighbors. The Argentine ant, for instance, has a supercolony that spans most of California and is now expanding into Mexico, researchers previously told Live Science, while the biggest supercolony on the planet spans 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) across the Mediterranean, according to a 2009 article in the journal Insectes Sociaux.
Sorger’s team was surveying ant species in Ethiopia when they found that L. canescens was showing some of the hallmarks of supercolony formation — namely, an ability to expand without any constraints. A genetic analysis
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