Brachyponera is an ant genus that comprises more than 20 documented species, most of which inhabit Africa, Asia and Australia, but one lone species can be found in the eastern United States where it has established an invasive habitat. This invasive species, Brachyponera chinensi, is native to Japan, and it was first discovered in the United States back in 1932 when colonies were recovered in Dekalb, Georgia. Although experts have long known that this species, which is commonly known as the Asian needle ant, is somewhat aggressive and inflicts extremely painful, long lasting and potentially fatal stings to humans, the Asian needle ant was not considered a public health threat in the US until recently when larger-than-predicted populations were found in multiple states ranging from Florida to southeastern Canada. Due to this species’ rapid proliferation and dispersal into northern states, the Asian needle ant was added to America’s official list of insect pest species in 2006. These ants are categorized as pests due to their habit of nesting in urban and suburban landscapes where they often invade homes and buildings where they may inflict medically significant stings to humans.
The Asian needle ant is unusual in that colonies are established in both natural and human-populated environments, and infestations have been found on residential lawns, in homes, school cafeterias and nature preserves. This invasive species is relatively new to the US, and therefore, it has not been studied extensively, but potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions to their stings has been documented multiple times throughout the eastern US during the past two decades. The venom produced by these ants is more likely than bee venom to induce severe allergic reactions in those who sustain stings from the species. Pest control researchers have learned that Asian needle ants are experts at establishing colonies within homes where workers tend to gravitate into kitchens in order to secure human food sources. While outdoors, these ants prefer to nest within moist tree stumps and damp soil beneath leaf-litter and stones. In neighborhoods, Asian needle ants are often found congregating below mulch, shrubs, bricks and landscaping ornaments. Eradicating both outdoor and indoor Asian needle ant infestations is not easy, as no pest control protocol has been developed to combat these ants, and colonies often contain more than one queen that must be eliminated to end infestations.
Have you ever heard of Asian needle ants?