Acquiring invasive species of ants to keep as pets appears to be a growing interest worldwide, according to a recent investigation.
An investigation into the global ant trade has revealed just how easy it is to procure dangerous pet ants, including many species Australia is trying to eradicate such as the red imported fire ant, electric ant and yellow crazy ant. Since 2002, the marketplace has grown from just a handful of websites to now more than 100 online traders selling ant queens or whole colonies. Of the 500 or so species available to buy, 57 are considered invasive.
“With countries across the world, including Australia, spending tens of millions of dollars every year battling red imported fire ants (RIFA) and yellow crazy ants, the thought that people can buy these invasive species online is terrifying,” reported Tim Low, biologist and co-founder the Invasive Species Council.
The authors of the investigation, Jérôme Gippet and Cleo Bertelsmeier from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, note that ants are very easy to sell globally, because a queen, a few workers, and some brood can easily be delivered through standard mail. For a multi-queen species such as RIFA, an escaped queen and some workers could easily lead to a new colony forming.
Ant traders are located in more than 20 countries. One particular ant trader sells colonies of fire ants from as little as $30, with yellow crazy ants topping the table at $80 a colony. The same company also exports termite colonies!
It’s not just invasive species, either – Australian native ants are also in global demand. Two of the global traders operate out of Melbourne. Whilst the Australian Government forbids ants to be imported, the same isn’t true when it comes to exports. The fact that some ant traders offer shipping to anywhere in the world is a very concerning prospect, considering the biosecurity risk for the recipient country.