Virginia's first specimen of the invasive Little Fire Ant ...

Virginia's first specimen of the invasive Little Fire Ant ...

Virginia's first specimen of the invasive Little Fire Ant, Wasmannia auropunctata, discovered in Lee County, Virginia!

Virginia's first, and to date only, specimen of the infamous Little Fire Ant was recently discovered by VMNH Biology Technician Liberty Hightower and Associate Curator of Recent Invertebrates Dr. Kal Ivanov in a backlogged leaf-litter sample collected by beetle expert Dr. Bob Anderson (Canadian Museum of Nature) in Lee County back in 2016.

Named for its painful sting, the Little Fire Ant, a.k.a. the Electric Ant, is one of Virginia's smallest ants. Measuring only 1.5 mm (~ 0.06 inches) in size, it is barely visible to the naked eye, but packs a powerful sting that is out of proportion to the ant's minute size. The common name of this species, however, is somewhat misleading because W. auropunctata is not closely related to the "true" fire ants of the genus Solenopsis.

Native to the Neotropical lowland forests of the New World, this species has spread to tropical and subtropical areas in other parts of the globe including Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, North America, Australia, and many Atlantic and Pacific Island groups. In temperate regions, this species can be a pest in greenhouses and other indoor situations. Negative ecological impacts of exotic W. auropunctata populations have been reported from many areas across this species' introduced range, especially from fragile island habitats.

The finding of W. auropunctata in Virginia is rather surprising. In the United States, outdoor populations of this exotic species have been reported from Alabama, Arkansas, California, and Florida - areas well outside the borders of Virginia. Southern Virginia may lie just within the thermal tolerance limits of this tropical species. At present it is unknown if W. auropunctata has become established in Virginia, but given the profound negative impacts of this species, care should be taken in monitoring the establishment and spread of this notorious invader...stay tuned!

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