Penn StateNASA

Climate Change Winners

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Some insects are thriving as a result of climate change and human activity. One of them is the fire ant, or Solenopsis invicta, which is a relative of the bees. This species arrived on US soil in 1968 via a container ship from South America. Today, the fire ant occupies much of the south-central to the southeastern US from Texas all the way to southeast Virginia and southern California. The fire ant behaves like a bee, with some colonies having one queen and others hundreds of queens. A colony has several queens whose role is to reproduce and then invade new territory. And the queens do that well; they can release 3,500 eggs in one day. Fire ants bite humans and small animals by anchoring themselves to the skin then injecting their poison from their abdomen. In most cases, people are bitten by many ants at the same time.

In most cases, the stings are merely painful, and some swelling disappears rapidly; however, some people turn out to be very sensitive to fire ant bites, developing secondary infections and neurologic complications. There have been about 60 deaths in the US since the ants arrived. Fire ants create large mounds, cause physical damage to the soil, and hinder cultivation. They spread very rapidly, and several colonies have been found to have invaded a yard overnight.

Fire ants do not live where the soil is impacted by a hard freeze, and that is where climate change comes in. As winters become less harsh, and freezing becomes less widespread, the ants have their eyes set on Washington DC and further north.