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The “electric ant” or “little fire ant,” an invasive species named for its painful bite, was first discovered in France. The insect is only 1.5 millimeters in size, but it poses a threat to biodiversity.

Osmania goldenwhich hails from South America, was spotted in Toulon in the south of France, in a gated residence by the sea.

So far, this species has only been seen once in Europe, near Malaga in Spain.

When Olivier Blythe, a researcher at the Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology (IMBE), officially identified it, “we were already dealing with a supercolony, so we think it has been there for more than a year.”

According to Blythe, the tiny golden-brown ants, probably introduced “during the transportation of the plant”, have already been seen up to 100 meters from the residence.

Harmful invasive species

Osmania golden extremely invasive, even if it moves slowly, Blythe said.

“Its strength is in numbers,” said the researcher who put the species on the European Union’s list of species of concern.

Its sting causes a sensation similar to a stinging nettle, “only stronger and longer, lasting two to three hours,” he said. With this formidable weapon, the electric ant can destroy plants, destroy insects and blind animals the size of cats and dogs.

As a result, this can lead to a decline in the population of other species, harming biodiversity. In New Caledonia, Blythe said, “in the forests he invaded, you no longer hear any insect sounds.”

In humans, in addition to painful bites, an electric ant can cause anaphylactic shock in people with allergies.

Liquidation plan

Electric ants usually nest in the ground, but they have been known to infest houses, furniture and food.

Their destruction can be expensive. In Queensland, Australia, which has been colonized since 2006, the authorities have allocated more than 400 million dollars (about 260 million euros) to fight against Osmania golden more than ten years.

After declaring its presence to authorities in early September, Blight wants to raise awareness among the general public, specifically so that researchers can check other properties near the first outbreak detected.

“We need to do a very quick demarcation of the invasion area in order to come up with an eradication plan,” Blythe said, comparing the strategy to the one that authorities used when tiger mosquitoes were present.

European Union countries have three months from the time an invasive species is discovered to come up with an eradication plan, Blythe said.

He intends to carry out a molecular analysis of samples taken in Toulon to try to determine how the species came to France.