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"Chemical Combat-Ants" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at University of California, Riverside, have confirmed that Argentine ants, aggressive ants which thrive in California urban areas, utilize chemical secretions as weapons against harvester ants, which are native to California. This advancement in knowledge could lead to chemicals to control Argentine ant populations and protect native species.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:


I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Some of the most aggressive, destructive, baddest ants around have already spread from their tropical native digs onto six continents including North America. Argentine ants' ability to dominate over other ant species and pollinators makes them an ecological and economic nuisance in California and the southern U.S.

Argentine ants are so formidable because they have more than one queen per colony making them difficult to eradicate. They don't build permanent nests, remaining transient gives them super-adaptability. They're mondo-aggressive, outcompeting native species for resources while protecting plant pests such as aphids.

Here's the biggie; researchers at the University of California, Riverside, confirmed these bad boys have chemical weapons in their arsenal -- actually in their abdomen. Two compounds they apply to their enemies during combat that cause irritation and disorientation and attract other comrades to the scene to step up the battle.

The team believes the findings could help lead to new strategies against the ants. For instance, using the chemicals as a bait to draw argentine ants to poison, while acting as a deterrent to native species.

Because now we know just what Argentine ants bring to the picnic.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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