Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

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Wasmannia auropunctata
(little fire ant)

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Datasheet

Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 13 December 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Natural Enemy
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Wasmannia auropunctata
  • Preferred Common Name
  • little fire ant
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Arthropoda
  •       Subphylum: Uniramia
  •         Class: Insecta
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Wasmannia auropunctata (the little fire ant) is responsible for reducing species diversity, reducing overall abundance of flying and tree-dwelling insects, and eliminating arachnid population...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult. Smithfield, Cairns, Queensland, Australia. July, 2006. Museum specimen. Body length approx. 1.5 mm, reddish to golden brown. Workers are monomorphic. Antennae consist of 11 segments, the last two forming a distinct club. Antennal scrobes are well marked and extend almost to the occipital border. Head and thorax are heavily sculptured with grooves and pits. Epinotal spines are set close together at the base, strongly diverging and slightly incurved when seen from above. Node of the petiole is rectangular in profile and higher than the post-petiole. The erect body hairs are long, coarse and rather sparse. The strongly quadrate lateral profile of the petiolar node is unique to this species.
TitleAdult
CaptionWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult. Smithfield, Cairns, Queensland, Australia. July, 2006. Museum specimen. Body length approx. 1.5 mm, reddish to golden brown. Workers are monomorphic. Antennae consist of 11 segments, the last two forming a distinct club. Antennal scrobes are well marked and extend almost to the occipital border. Head and thorax are heavily sculptured with grooves and pits. Epinotal spines are set close together at the base, strongly diverging and slightly incurved when seen from above. Node of the petiole is rectangular in profile and higher than the post-petiole. The erect body hairs are long, coarse and rather sparse. The strongly quadrate lateral profile of the petiolar node is unique to this species.
Copyright©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult. Smithfield, Cairns, Queensland, Australia. July, 2006. Museum specimen. Body length approx. 1.5 mm, reddish to golden brown. Workers are monomorphic. Antennae consist of 11 segments, the last two forming a distinct club. Antennal scrobes are well marked and extend almost to the occipital border. Head and thorax are heavily sculptured with grooves and pits. Epinotal spines are set close together at the base, strongly diverging and slightly incurved when seen from above. Node of the petiole is rectangular in profile and higher than the post-petiole. The erect body hairs are long, coarse and rather sparse. The strongly quadrate lateral profile of the petiolar node is unique to this species.
AdultWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult. Smithfield, Cairns, Queensland, Australia. July, 2006. Museum specimen. Body length approx. 1.5 mm, reddish to golden brown. Workers are monomorphic. Antennae consist of 11 segments, the last two forming a distinct club. Antennal scrobes are well marked and extend almost to the occipital border. Head and thorax are heavily sculptured with grooves and pits. Epinotal spines are set close together at the base, strongly diverging and slightly incurved when seen from above. Node of the petiole is rectangular in profile and higher than the post-petiole. The erect body hairs are long, coarse and rather sparse. The strongly quadrate lateral profile of the petiolar node is unique to this species.©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, lateral view. Note scale for this very small ant. Museum specimen. USA.
TitleAdult
CaptionWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, lateral view. Note scale for this very small ant. Museum specimen. USA.
Copyright©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, lateral view. Note scale for this very small ant. Museum specimen. USA.
AdultWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, lateral view. Note scale for this very small ant. Museum specimen. USA.©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, at peanut butter bait. Makira, Solomon Islands.
TitleAdult at bait
CaptionWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, at peanut butter bait. Makira, Solomon Islands.
Copyright©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, at peanut butter bait. Makira, Solomon Islands.
Adult at baitWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, at peanut butter bait. Makira, Solomon Islands.©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, face. Note scale for this very small ant. Museum specimen. USA.
TitleAdult
CaptionWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, face. Note scale for this very small ant. Museum specimen. USA.
Copyright©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, face. Note scale for this very small ant. Museum specimen. USA.
AdultWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adult, face. Note scale for this very small ant. Museum specimen. USA.©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults in the field on a tree. Honiara, Solomon Islands.
TitleAdult
CaptionWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults in the field on a tree. Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Copyright©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults in the field on a tree. Honiara, Solomon Islands.
AdultWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults in the field on a tree. Honiara, Solomon Islands.©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults in the field on a tree. Honiara, Solomon Islands.
TitleAdults
CaptionWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults in the field on a tree. Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Copyright©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults in the field on a tree. Honiara, Solomon Islands.
AdultsWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults in the field on a tree. Honiara, Solomon Islands.©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults, in laboratory, at peanut butter bait. Note scale in mm. Makira, Solomon Islands.
TitleAdults at bait
CaptionWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults, in laboratory, at peanut butter bait. Note scale in mm. Makira, Solomon Islands.
Copyright©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults, in laboratory, at peanut butter bait. Note scale in mm. Makira, Solomon Islands.
Adults at baitWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); adults, in laboratory, at peanut butter bait. Note scale in mm. Makira, Solomon Islands.©Eli Sarnat/PIAkey: Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); frond of African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), with little fire ants attending scale insects. UH Hilo, Hawaii, Hawaii, USA. July 2012.
TitleAttending scale insects
CaptionWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); frond of African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), with little fire ants attending scale insects. UH Hilo, Hawaii, Hawaii, USA. July 2012.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 4.0
Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); frond of African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), with little fire ants attending scale insects. UH Hilo, Hawaii, Hawaii, USA. July 2012.
Attending scale insectsWasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant); frond of African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), with little fire ants attending scale insects. UH Hilo, Hawaii, Hawaii, USA. July 2012.©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 4.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Wasmannia auropunctata (Roger)

Preferred Common Name

  • little fire ant

Other Scientific Names

  • Hercynia panamana (Enzmann 1947)
  • Ochetomyrmex auropunctatum (Forel 1886)
  • Ochetomyrmex auropunctatus (Roger 1863)
  • Tetramorium auropunctatum (Roger 1863)
  • Wasmannia glabra (Santschi 1931)
  • Xiphomyrmex atomum (Santschi 1914)

International Common Names

  • English: cocoa tree-ant; electric ant; little introduced fire ant; little red fire ant; small fire ant; West Indian stinging ant
  • Spanish: albayalde; hormiga colorada; hormiga roja; hormiguilla; pequeña hormiga de fuego; satánica
  • French: fourmi électrique; fourmi rouge; petit fourmi de feu
  • Portuguese: formiga pixixica; pequena formiga defogo

Local Common Names

  • Gabon: sangunagenta; tsangonawenda
  • Germany: Rote Feuerameise

EPPO code

  • WASMAU (Wasmannia auropunctata)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Wasmannia auropunctata (the little fire ant) is responsible for reducing species diversity, reducing overall abundance of flying and tree-dwelling insects, and eliminating arachnid populations. It is also known for its painful stings. On the Galapagos, it eats the hatchlings of tortoises and attacks the eyes and cloacae of the adult tortoises. It is considered to be perhaps the greatest ant species threat in the Pacific region. This species has been nominated among 100 of the 'World's Worst' invaders.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Arthropoda
  •             Subphylum: Uniramia
  •                 Class: Insecta
  •                     Order: Hymenoptera
  •                         Family: Formicidae
  •                             Genus: Wasmannia
  •                                 Species: Wasmannia auropunctata

Description

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W. auropunctata workers are monomorphic, which means they display no physical differentiation (Holway et al., 2002). The ants are typically small to medium-sized, with the workers ranging from 1-2 mm (Holway et al., 2002; Longino and Fernández, 2007). The little fire ant is light to golden brown in colour. The gaster (abdomen) is often darker. The pedicel, between the thorax and gaster, has two segments; the petiole and postpetiole. The petiole is 'hatchet-like', with a node that is almost rectangular in profile and higher than the postpetiole. The antenna has 11 segments, with the last two segments greatly enlarged into a distinct club. The antennal scape (the first segment) is received into a distinct groove (scrobe) that extends almost to the posterior border of the head. The propodeum has long and sharp epinotal spines (propodeal spines). The body is sparsely covered with long, erect hairs. This species is well-known for a painful sting, seemingly out of proportion to its size.

For images and assistance with identification see Gunawardana and Sarnat (2007).

Distribution

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W. auropunctata is native to Central and South America (Holway et al., 2002Wetterer and Porter, 2003). It has been introduced to parts of Africa (including Gabon and Cameroon), the Middle East (Israel) (Vonshak et al., 2009), North America (including Canada) and South America. It has been introduced to some islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean (including New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Tahiti, the Galapagos, Hawaii and Solomon Islands) (McGlynn, 1999; Roque-Albelo and Causton, 1999; Holway et al., 2002; JK Wetterer, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, personal communication, 2003; E Loeve, Fenua Animalia, Tahiti, personal communication, 2004).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

IsraelPresentIntroducedFirst recorded 2006 Invasive ISSG, 2014

Africa

CameroonPresentIntroducedBefore 1959 Invasive Greathead and Greathead, 1992; ISSG, 2014
GabonPresentIntroducedBefore 1914 Invasive ISSG, 2014

North America

BermudaPresentIntroduced1925ISSG, 2014
CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution
-British ColumbiaPresentIntroduced1994 Invasive ISSG, 2014
-ManitobaPresentIntroduced1977 Invasive ISSG, 2014
-OntarioPresentIntroduced1978 Invasive ISSG, 2014
-QuebecPresentIntroduced1999 Invasive ISSG, 2014
MexicoPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution
-CaliforniaPresentIntroduced1936 Invasive ISSG, 2014
-FloridaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2014
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced1999 Invasive ISSG, 2014

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasPresentIntroduced1951ISSG, 2014
BarbadosPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
Costa RicaPresentNative Invasive ISSG, 2014
CubaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
Dominican RepublicPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
GrenadaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
GuadeloupePresentNativeISSG, 2014
GuatemalaPresentNative Invasive ISSG, 2014
HaitiPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
HondurasPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
JamaicaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
MartiniquePresentNativeISSG, 2014
NicaraguaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
PanamaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
Puerto RicoPresentNative Invasive ISSG, 2014
Saint LuciaPresentNativeISSG, 2014
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentNativeISSG, 2014
Trinidad and TobagoPresentNative Invasive ISSG, 2014

South America

ArgentinaPresentNativeISSG, 2014
BoliviaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
BrazilPresentNative Invasive ISSG, 2014
-AmazonasPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-BahiaPresentSantos et al., 2017
-CearaPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-Mato GrossoPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-Minas GeraisPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-ParaibaPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-ParanaPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-Rio de JaneiroPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-Rio Grande do NortePresentNativeISSG, 2014
-Rio Grande do SulPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-RondoniaPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-Santa CatarinaPresentNativeISSG, 2014
-Sao PauloPresentNativeISSG, 2014
ColombiaPresentNative Invasive ISSG, 2014
EcuadorPresentPresent based on regional distribution
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroduced1910s Invasive Causton et al., 2005; ISSG, 2014Eradicated from Santa Fe Island, last reported in 1999
French GuianaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
GuyanaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
ParaguayPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
PeruPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
SurinamePresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
UruguayPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2014
VenezuelaPresentNativeISSG, 2014

Europe

UKPresentPresent based on regional distribution
-England and WalesPresentIntroduced1907 Invasive ISSG, 2014

Oceania

AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution
-QueenslandRestricted distributionIntroducedMay 2006 Invasive ISSG, 2014
Cook IslandsAbsent, unreliable recordISSG, 2014
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced1990s Invasive IPPC, 2006; ISSG, 2014
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced1960s Invasive ISSG, 2014
New ZealandAbsent, intercepted onlyISSG, 2014
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroducedBefore 1974 Invasive ISSG, 2014
TuvaluPresentIntroducedBefore 1995 Not invasive ISSG, 2014
VanuatuPresentIntroducedca 1996 Invasive IPPC, 2005; ISSG, 2014
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresentIntroducedBefore 1981 Invasive ISSG, 2014

History of Introduction and Spread

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Bruneau de Miré (1969) reported W. auropunctata from the coastal region of Cameroon near Kribi, where cacao (Theobroma cacao) growers purposely transported W. auropunctata colonies from plantation to plantation as a biological control agent of certain insect pests, particularly Miridae (Hemiptera). (Bruneau de Miré, 1969). W. auropunctata became established in the Galapoagos in the early twentieth century (Clark et al., 1982). In Florida, it was first found outdoors in 1924, and by 1935 had become a pest in citrus groves (Spencer, 1941; Harris et al., 2005). It arrived much more recently in the Pacific; it was first recorded in New Caledonia in the 1970s, in the Solomon Islands before 1978 and in Vanuatu in 1998. It was first collected in Hawaii in 1999 (Harris et al., 2005).

Risk of Introduction

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Risk of introduction is high as it is likely to be transported in soil and on plant parts in tropical parts of the world. However, cold climates appear to be unsuitable for the successful invasion and establishment of W. auropunctata in native ecosystems. However, it is able to colonize and become abundant in man-made habitats such as cities (Foucaud et al., 2009). In the southern limit of its distribution in central eastern Argentina, the little fire ant is common and abundant in most cities (LA Calcaterra, USDA-ARS South American Biological Control Laboratory, Buenos Aires, unpublished data). In its introduced range, it may survive in human habitations or infrastructures including climate-controlled buildings and greenhouses. For example, W. auropunctata is a greenhouse pest in temperate regions, such as England and Canada. Although local spread is restricted in such cases, the population may act as a 'stepping stone' for the colonization of more suitable locations (McGlynn, 1999Holway et al., 2002; JK Wetterer, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, personal communication, 2003).

Habitat

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W. auropunctata has been described as a true generalist in its choice of nest sites and habitats (Harris et al., 2005). It occurs in a range of habitats from urban settlements (Delabie et al., 1994) and fields through to undisturbed forest (Harris et al., 2005). Generally, W. auropunctata nests in unstable microhabitats favouring species that can cope with frequent migrations (Holldobler and Wilson, 1990). It can occur in habitats that are wet or dry and it will nest on the ground or in trees. Unlike Solenopsis geminata, it does not colonize disturbed habitats rapidly (Harris et al., 2005).

In natural environments W. auropunctata efficiently exploits twigs and leaf litter, and for its nesting substrate, while in houses, it may infest beds, furniture and food (Smith, 1965;  Brooks and Nickerson, 2000; Armbrecht and Ulloa-Chacón, 2003). In some regions, nests are frequently found behind the sheaths of palms or palmettos. During heavy rains, nests may be moved into buildings or trees to escape flooding (Hedges, 1998;  Brooks and Nickerson, 2000).

Favourable ant habitats include the following:

Low vegetation (including grass), soil, disturbed sites, rubbish piles, road margins, building edges and foundations, concrete slab edges, cracked concrete, drains and culverts, electrical equipment, exposed rocks, fence palings, grass areas, verges, isolated weeds, logs and log stoppers, loose gravel, plant pot bases, base of flowering tree, shrubs, poles, watertraps, tree crotches, weed and plant re-growth, wooden structures and pallets.

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial-managed/Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-natural/semi-natural/Riverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-managed/Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-managed/Buildings Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Host Animals

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Animal nameContextLife stageSystem
Amblypelta cocophaga (coconut bug)

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Coffea arabica (arabica coffee)RubiaceaeMain
Cucurbitaceae (cucurbits)CucurbitaceaeMain

Biology and Ecology

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Nest Characteristics

Both multiple queened (polygyne) and single queened (monogyne) colonies occur (Wetterer and Porter, 2003). Colonies show low intraspecific aggression (unicolonial) and high interspecific aggression. Queens typically live about a year (Passera, 1994). Sexuals are produced throughout most of the year (Passera, 1994). On Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, where W. auropunctata was abundant, estimated densities were 1000-5000 workers per square metre (Clark et al., 1982). They do not have structured nests, but use any available space: under leaf debris, rotten tree limbs, stones, in the crotches of trees or clumps of grass or in space between plants and soil (Harris et al., 2005).

W. auropunctata has two types of ecologically distinct populations: 1) dominant populations with a high density of nests and workers, associated with highly disturbed environments (prone to anthropic or natural disturbance) and low ant species richness; 2) non-dominant populations (low density of nests and workers) associated with undisturbed environments (Orivel et al., 2009). The similarity of the native and introduced populations encouraged the study of the transition from non-dominant to dominant populations in their native range as a key factor in the study of biological invasions by this species (Foucaud et al., 2009).

The success of this species as an invasive is associated with its unicolonial social organization in which individuals from different nests mix freely, forming a large, highly competitive supercolony, which can reach hundreds of kilometres in invaded areas (Le Breton et al., 2004). This type of organization has also been observed in some areas of its native range (Le Breton et al., 2004), although they form much smaller colonies.

It was recently discovered that populations of this species have two types of reproductive system: 1) clonal populations in which males and females reproduce independently by clonation, and workers reproduce sexually; and 2) classical sexual population (workers and females reproduce sexually and males by arrhenotokous parthenogenesis) (Fournier et al., 2005Foucaud et al., 2007). Clonal populations are associated with human or man-made habitats, whereas sexual populations occur in natural habitats (Orivel et al., 2009). Clonality is believed to be responsible for the ability to colonize and persist in extreme environments or highly modified habitats, maintaining high levels of heterozygosis (Foucaud et al., 2009). Although there are different hypotheses, neither the origin nor the mechanism of clonality is well understood in this species.

Nutrition

W. auropunctata is a generalist feeder, preferring invertebrates, seeds and other plant parts (Clark et al., 1982; Romanski, 2001). When honeydew-producing Homoptera are present, a large part of its diet is likely to consist of the carbohydrate-rich residues produced by these insects (JK Wetterer, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, personal communication, 2003). In human habitations, nutrition may be gained from fats (such as peanut butter) and other oily materials found in homes (Fernald, 1947Brooks and Nickerson, 2000). W. auropunctata has a venomous sting that gives it a greater ability to subdue vertebrate and large invertebrate prey (Holway et al., 2002).

Foraging

Foraging is less affected by wind, rain, direct sunlight and time of day/night than in populations of Solenopsis geminata and Paratrechina longicornis (Meier, 1994). Workers are highly aggressive to other ant species and in some locations they are able to exclude other ant species completely and dominate an area (Jourdan, 1997Harris et al., 2005). In their native range they do not defend territories, but recruit to and defend food resources close to their nests (Torres, 1984Harris et al., 2005).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
32 32

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

W. auropunctata is atypical of many ant species in that it does not rely on the winged queen to form a new colony. The colony radiates outwards from its center of origin and comes to occupy extensive areas (Roque-Albelo and Causton, 1999). 

It can spread via floating vegetation or debris, particularly on logs. 

Accidental Introduction

W. auropunctata is commonly associated with, and distributed by, humans. Nurseries, fruit tree orchards, and ornamental plants are all potential habitats for this species. Since these ants have an affinity for nesting at tree bases and in potted plants, they are very easily spread between plant nurseries. When contaminated plants are purchased and planted, the ants may become locally established (Romanski, 2001).

Growing military and commercial activity may have facilitated the increased spread of ants into the Pacific region over the last century. Commerce to and from islands must be watched more closely than exchanges between two continental areas because ants are more abundant on islands and are more likely to establish on new islands (due to higher ecological vulnerability of island ecosystems) (McGlynn, 1999).

It is likely to have been transported between the large islands in the Galapagos archipelago on plants and in soil, and between small islands on camping provisions and equipment (Roque-Albelo and Causton, 1999). It may also be spread by the movement of logs and lumber products infested with the ant. It may be spread within the Solomon Islands by the movement of coconuts.

Intentional Introduction

It is used as a biological control agent on plantations in Gabon and Cameroon. In Cameroon, the spread of W. auropunctata in cocoa plantations is encouraged because it preys on, and helps control, certain herbivorous cocoa pests (Bruneau de Miré, 1969Brooks and Nickerson, 2000).

    Pathway Causes

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    CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
    Biological controlDeliberate introduction to Cameroon, Solomon Islands and Venezuela Yes Bluthgen and Shelter, 2010
    Crop productionEquipment or associated planting material - accidental Yes Yes ,
    Flooding and other natural disastersFloating vegetation/logs - accidental Yes ISSG, 2014
    Food Yes
    Garden waste disposal Yes
    HitchhikerOn camping equipment Yes ISSG, 2014
    Landscape improvementSoil Yes Yes ISSG, 2014
    Nursery trade Yes Yes
    Timber tradeLogs Yes Yes ISSG, 2014

    Impact Summary

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    CategoryImpact
    Native fauna Negative

    Impact

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    Economic Impact

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    In its native range in South America, W. auropunctata is a pest in disturbed forests and agricultural areas, where it can reach high densities. High densities of W. auropunctata have been linked to sugar cane monocultures and cocoa farms in Colombia and Brazil, respectively. In Cameroon, on the other hand, the spread of W. auropunctata is encouraged, due to the fact that it preys on, and thereby has a role in the control of, certain herbivorous cocoa pests (Bruneau de Miré, 1969Brooks and Nickerson, 2000).

    Impact: Biodiversity

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    W. auropunctata may have negative impacts on invertebrates and vertebrates. They prey on native insects and cause declines in the numbers of small vertebrates. In Colombia, a high abundance of this ant in forest fragments has been linked with low ant diversity. It efficiently exploits resources including nectar, refuges within vegetation and honeydew residues (of Homopteran insects), and it may out-compete and displace native myrmecofauna (Armbrecht and Ulloa-Chacón, 2003). In human habitations this species may sting, and even blind, domestic pets (cats and dogs) (Romanski, 2001). It is believed to have caused a decrease in reptile populations in New Caledonia and in the Galapagos archipelago, where it eats tortoise hatchlings and attacks the eyes and cloacae of the adult tortoises (Holway et al., 2002; JK Wetterer, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, personal communication, 2003). W. auropunctata is probably the most aggressive species that has been introduced into the Galapagos archipelago, where a marked reduction of scorpions, spiders and native ant species in infested areas has been observed (Clark et al., 1982Lubin, 1984Roque-Albelo and Causton, 1999). Similarly, it has been noted to decrease local arthropod biodiversity in the Solomon Islands (Romanski, 2001).

    W. auropunctata rarely buries myrmecochorous seeds and sometimes ingests elaisomes without dispersing seed. In its native range, it decreases herbivorous arthropod biodiversity, increasing the fruit and seed production and growth of the plant and decreasing pathogen attacks. W. auropunctata may also, however, exclude arthropod plant mutualists, such as plant tenders or seed dispersers (Ness and Bronstein, 2004).

    Threatened Species

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    Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
    Hemiargus thomasi bethunebakeri (Miami blue butterfly)USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesFloridaPredation,

    Social Impact

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    In agricultural areas, due to the close association of the land and workers, W. auropunctata may be a great nuisance to humans. This is because it is more likely to reach high densities and sting people working in the field.

    Risk and Impact Factors

    Top of page Invasiveness
    • Proved invasive outside its native range
    • Has a broad native range
    • Abundant in its native range
    • Highly adaptable to different environments
    • Is a habitat generalist
    • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
    • Pioneering in disturbed areas
    • Tolerant of shade
    • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
    • Highly mobile locally
    • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
    • Fast growing
    • Has high reproductive potential
    • Gregarious
    • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
    Impact outcomes
    • Damaged ecosystem services
    • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
    • Host damage
    • Increases vulnerability to invasions
    • Infrastructure damage
    • Negatively impacts agriculture
    • Negatively impacts cultural/traditional practices
    • Negatively impacts forestry
    • Negatively impacts human health
    • Negatively impacts animal health
    • Negatively impacts livelihoods
    • Reduced amenity values
    • Reduced native biodiversity
    • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
    • Threat to/ loss of native species
    • Damages animal/plant products
    • Negatively impacts trade/international relations
    Impact mechanisms
    • Causes allergic responses
    • Competition - monopolizing resources
    • Competition
    • Predation
    • Rapid growth
    Likelihood of entry/control
    • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
    • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
    • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
    • Difficult to identify/detect in the field
    • Difficult/costly to control

    Uses List

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    Environmental

    • Biological control

    Detection and Inspection

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    Ants can be detected by conducting surveillance programmes in high risk sites with favourable ant habitats. Surveillance should not occur during or after rain when the ground surface is still wet. Inspection is unsuitable in excessively windy days when ant activity is minimal.

    The following is adopted from Vanderwoude et al. (2009):

    Three survey methods can be used to detect W. auropunctata: vial baiting, chop stick baiting and visual surveys.

    Vial Baiting

    Vial baiting with an attractant is systematic and most suitable for surveys of industrial sites and nurseries. Little fire ant vial baits contain peanut butter which can be made by smearing a line of peanut butter (half the size of a pea) on the inner side of each bait vial (60 cc plastic containers with lids). Baits should be freshly made as ants are are not as interested in old and dried-up baits. The survey is carried out by placing bait vials in a grid pattern, with a minimum of one bait container per 10 x 10 m grid. Bait containers should be placed in suitable ant habitats and should be collected within 60-90 minutes after placement in the field.

    Chop Stick Bating

    Chop stick baiting is useful when targeting habitat trees as well as individual potted plants. One end of the chopstick needs to be painted (both sides) so that these can be easily relocated in the field. Morning or overcast days are the best times to bait. If surveying at midday on hot, low humidity days, baits should be placed in shady spots.

    Dip the unpainted end of a chopstick in peanut butter to get a light coating extending about halfway up the stick. Place the chopsticks with peanut butter on the ground every 5-10 m. Only place in suitable habitats such as bases of trees/shrubs and in shady spots. Leave chopsticks with peanut butter for at least 45 minutes, not more than 2 hours before collecting. While collecting check for presence/absence of W. auropunctata.

    Visual Survey

    Visual surveys are appropriate when targeting discrete locations within a large site or for covering large areas quickly. It is very efficient in high density areas. Causton et al. (2005) used hot-dogs (ca 5 mm thick, made of beef) on the lower ends of 30 cm wire flags that were placed on the ground at 5 m intervals along a transect to detect W. auropunctata. These baits were checked after 45 minutes.

    Prevention and Control

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    Prevention, quarantine and rapid response are the best management strategies for preventing the establishment of invasive ants. To be successful, they require active surveying, early detection and subsequent rapid treatment procedures, often along with quarantine. This type of management approach remains the most practical strategy for dealing with invasive ants (Krushelnycky et al., 2005). The potential of invasive ants to reach high densities is greater in ecosystems which have been utilized or modified by humans. For example, W. auropunctata is a greater problem in forests and habitats in its native range in South America that have been over-exploited by humans (Armbrecht and Ulloa-Chacón, 2003).

    Chemical Control

    Eradication programmes are expected to be more successful on small islands or in isolated areas where distributions are less than a few dozen hectares. It has been successfully eradicated from Santa Fe and is thought to have been eradicated from other small islands such as Marchena (Causton et al., 2005). An intensive programme was initiated to eradicate W. auropunctata from ca 21 hectares on Marchena Island, Galapagos. Hydramethylnon with soybean oil, 0.88% active ingredient, was applied three times in the treatment area in Marchena Island at three month intervals during the eradication programme (Causton et al., 2005). This product was developed for Solenopsis fire ants and was the most attractive to W. auropunctata.

    W. auropunctata primarily nests and forages in the leaf litter and is behaviourally dominant when competing for small sized baits presented in a dispersed fashion (McGlynn, 1999). W. auropunctata prefers carbohydrate-rich resources such as honey, water or honeydew to protein-rich resources (McGlynn, 1999). W. auropunctata tend to be attracted to lipid baits. Tuna oil and peanut butter were used in the Galapagos archipelago on Santa Fe Island and proved highly attractive to ants, but also to birds, lizards and rats (Abedrabbo, 1994Stanley, 2004). Researchers used peanut butter painted monitoring sticks on Marchena Island in the Galapagos to detect ant presence (Causton et al., 2005). Peanut butter bait is also used in quarantine in Hawaii to treat plants before shipping (Krushelnycky et al., 2005). Hot dogs on wire flags were used during the eradication programme on Marchena Island in 2001 and were attractive to W. auropunctata; but a large proportion were eaten by lizards and crabs (Causton et al., 2005).

    The Hawaiian Department of Agriculture primarily used Amdro® granular ant bait to target W. auropunctata. It is effective when it can be evenly broadcast throughout a population and when excessive humidity or rainfall does not disrupt application operations. Thick vegetation may make it difficult to achieve thorough coverage, which is necessary due to the short foraging distance of the species. In addition, frequent rainfall in some regions has hampered the effectiveness of such applications. Even more problematic are infestations in fruit orchards, where no satisfactory eradication technique is available (Krushelnycky et al., 2005).

    Hydramethylnon in soybean oil on corn grit matrix is very effective at controlling S. invicta and W. auropunctata and suggested for use against the latter by Stanley (2004). Methoprene baits (0.4%) used in a field experiment on Santa Cruz Island (Galapagos) in 1989-90 were highly attractive, but population reductions had only reached 50-75% after 3 months (Ulloa-Chacón and Cherix, 1994).

    Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) baits developed for S. invicta control (active ingredients: methoprene and pyriproxyfen) appear to be the most effective IGR ant baits available. They have a lipid attractant and are attractive to W. auropunctata. Fenoxycarb (1%) has proved to be repellent to W. auropunctata in laboratory and field tests (Williams and Whelan, 1992Stanley, 2004).

    On Maui Island, Hawaii, three different baits were used during the W. auropunctata eradication programme in 2010 (Vanderwoude et al., 2010). Pyriproxyfen (0.5%) was applied to crop areas and hydramethylnon (0.74%) was applied to turf and ornamental areas every month throughout the year. An experimental indoxacarb (0.18%) bait was applied to all vegetation >1.8 m tall (Vanderwoude et al., 2010). Three-dimensional treatment and repeated treatment is required for successful eradication of this species.

    Most if not all ant eradications have employed the use of baits and toxicants, many of which are developed for agriculture or urban settings. However, indiscriminate pesticide use in natural areas and fragile island ecosystems is not advocated. Non-target impacts must be weighed up carefully against the benefits of ant eradication.

    References

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    Armbrecht, I., Ulloa-Chacón, P., 2003. The little fire ant Wasmannia auropunctata (Roger) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) as a diversity indicator of ants in tropical dry forest fragments of Colombia. Environmental Entomology, 32(3), 542-547. doi: 10.1603/0046-225X-32.3.542

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    Breton J Le, Delabie JHC, Chazeau J, Dejean A, Jourdan H, 2004. Experimental evidence of large-scale unicoloniality in the tramp ant Wasmannia auropunctata (Roger). Journal of Insect Behavior, 17(2):263-271. http://www.wkap.nl/journalhome.htm/0892-7553

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    Harris, R., Abbott, K., Barton, K., Berry, J., Don, W., Gunawardana, D., Lester, P., Rees, J., Stanley, M., Sutherland, A., Toft, R., 2005. Invasive ant pest risk assessment project for Biosecurity New Zealand. In: Series of unpublished Landcare Research contract reports to Biosecurity New Zealand , (No. BAH/35/2004-1)

    Hedges SA, 1998. Field Guide for the Management of Structure Infesting Ants, 2nd ed. Cleveland, Ohio, USA: GIE Inc. Publishers.

    Holway, D. A., Lach, L., Suarez, A. V., Tsutsui, N. D., Case, T. J., 2002. The causes and consequences of ant invasions. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 33, 181-233. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.33.010802.150444

    Hölldobler, B., Wilson, E. O., 1990. The ants, Heidelberg, German Federal Republic: Springer Verlag.xii + 732 pp. + 24 pl.

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    ISSG, 2014. Global Invasive Species Database (GISD). IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.http://www.issg.org/database/welcome/

    Jourdan H, 1997. Threats on Pacific Island: the spread of the Tramp Ant Wasmannia auropunctata. Pacific Conservation Biology, 3(1), 61-64.

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    Longino JT, Fernández F, 2007. A taxonomic review of the genus Wasmannia. In: Advances in ant systematics (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): Homage To EO Wilson. 50 Years of Contributions [ed. by Snelling RR, Fisher BL, Ward P]. American Entomological Institute, 271-289. [Memoirs of the American Entomological Institute, 80.]

    Lubin, Y. D., 1984. Changes in the native fauna of the Galápagos Islands following invasion by the little red fire ant, Wasmannia auropunctata. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 21(1/2), 229-242. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.1984.tb02064.x

    McGlynn, T. P., 1999. Non-native ants are smaller than related native ants. American Naturalist, 154(6), 690-699. doi: 10.1086/303270

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    Links to Websites

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    WebsiteURLComment
    AntKeyhttp://antkey.org/en/content/lucid-key-0
    GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
    Global Invasive Species Database - ISSGhttp://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/species.php?sc=58
    Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS)http://griis.org/Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
    Little fire ants in Hawaiihttp://www.antweb.org/
    Pacific Invasive Ant Keyhttp://idtools.org/id/ants/pia/
    PaDILhttp://www.padil.gov.au/

    Contributors

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    29/04/15 Updated by: Disna Gunawardana, Plant Health and Environment Laboratory, Ministry for Primary Industries, New Zealand

    31/10/09 Compiled by: Dr James K Wetterer, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, USA and IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)

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