As if honeybees weren’t already in enough trouble — their role as pollinators is crucial to the survival of more than 100 crops according to research from Whole Foods, and yet industrial agriculture relies heavily on the pesticides that are killing them — a longtime pest, in the form of the Argentine ant, is posing another growing threat.
Though native to Argentina and Brazil, the ant is well established in countries including South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States — especially the California coast. The creature is known “as one of the world’s most widespread and damaging pests,” and is now thought to be infecting honeybees with a deadly virus.
In a study of Argentine ant populations in New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina, all three countries were found to contain ants carrying the deformed wing virus, “a major pathogen widely associated with honeybee mortality.”
Because Argentine ants are highly adaptable and can survive on a number of different diets, the population has thrived across continents, and can transmit pathogens when foraging in the same places as bees, or more directly, when the ants actually raid beehives.
“Such effects clearly represent a new dimension to a poorly considered effect of biological invasions, the researchers concluded. “When exotic species invade new environments, become widespread and abundant, they may have a major impact by becoming hosts and reservoirs for important pathogens.”