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Finding a queen fire ant

Posted October. 08, 2017 07:00,   

Updated October. 08, 2017 07:38

If humans are extinguished on the earth, which fauna do you think will disappear the first, and which will survive for the longest? Hint: Both are insects. Alan Weisman, the author of “The World Without Us,” proposes that cockroaches will follow suit of human beings first as they are accustomed to the comfortable mode of life established by humanity. On the other hand, many entomologists point to the ants as a species capable of surviving nuclear wars. Indeed, ants have survived on the planet for a period of time, 550 to 650 times longer than the existence of homo sapiens (humans of today), which appeared on the earth 200,000 years ago.

Ants may be weak individually, but as a group, they wield formidable power. Ants are strong as they can form classes and practice division of labor. As illustrated in the novel “Ants” by French author Bernard Werber, ants are capable of dividing different types of labor, ranging from construction of houses, collection and storage of food, to childrearing and combatting, using pheromones for highly sophisticated communications. When an ant is covered with oleic acid, which removes the smell of pheromone, it is perceived as food or an enemy, being subjected to attacks from other ants.

The highly venomous red imported fire ant, which was recently found in the Korean port city of Busan, travelled from South America all the way down to Japan and South Korea; its strong survival instinct is quite self-explanatory. Since discovered in Busan on Sept. 28, the red ants have struck fear to the mind of many Koreans. Though a nest where some 1,000 red ants were residing was found and destroyed, it is no time to lower the guard. There is no guarantee that this is the first time that red ants have infiltrated the country, nor is there any assurance that they came with only one nest. Given that the ants penetrated the asphalt, one cannot exclude the possibility of more of them travelling along the road to other areas.

The empire of ants is ruled by a queen, which lays thousands or hundreds of thousands eggs and secretes strong pheromones. Eradicating the whole group is impossible simply by killing worker or solider ants; the queen is the jugular vein. Even in a flood, red ants form a sphere centered round the queen to protect her and survive the flood. While the Korean quarantine authorities claim that it is highly likely that the queen ant has already died, there is no guarantee. Will it help to offer a reward on the queen whose whereabouts still remain murky?