Humans will go down in the history books as the only species to colonize every continent on the planet. However, there are much smaller animals that are accomplishing this feat, and they’re ants. Oh yes! Along with ruining our picnics, these insects are also taking over the Earth, one anthill at a time. For most of the 12,000 species of ants described on Earth, they are extremely territorial. However, there are about 20 species that exhibit a behaviour to create super-colonies. These super-colonies grow from a single ant colony that branches out to nearby areas, and can expand uncontrollably if not impeded.
The most famous super-colony of ants is formed by the Argentine ants. This ant species was originally from South America, but has been able to establish super-colonies across the globe, thanks to us! Like so many other invasive species, these ants have piggy-backed on our jet-setting ways and then establish their new surroundings. Argentine ants have formed super-colonies in the US, Southern Europe, and Japan. The largest super-colony stretches over 6,000 km along the Mediterranean and includes millions of nests and billions of worker ants.
The most staggering part about this is that all of these super-colonies actually belong to each other, and have been coined a global mega-colony! Researchers had discovered that ants from these super-colonies, separated by oceans and continents, had distinctly similar chemical profiles of hydrocarbons on their cuticles.
These same scientists staged a huge family reunion by reintroducing members from the Japan, US, and European super-colonies. As expected, they treated each other like fellow colony members and showed no signs of aggression. This behaviour provides more evidence that these super-colonies are actually related to one another.
Will there be an insect uprising? I doubt it. But it is still fun to pretend a miniature Game of Thrones saga happening under our feet!