Argentine ant virus hurts them and honey bees

  • 09/09/2015
Three Argentine ants attacking a New Zealand native ant (Supplied)
Three Argentine ants attacking a New Zealand native ant (Supplied)

By 3 News online staff

Scientists have come across a previously unknown virus in the Argentine ant population which could be the invasive insects' downfall.

A research team from Victoria University's school of biological sciences and a group of "virus hunters" from ESR spent three years collecting and analysing genomic data from ant populations from New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Team leader Professor Phil Lester, from Victoria University, says the find could have commercial applications.

"This virus hasn’t been seen before, but it’s related to other viruses that can devastate populations of other insect species. If managed correctly it could be used as a biopesticide both in New Zealand and overseas," Prof Lester says.

The university's commercial arm Viclink says the discovery could lead to a marketable product.

Senior commercialisation manager Jeremy Jones says there's potential to create a naturally derived, species-specific insecticide which could lessen reliance on chemical products which can indiscriminately kill insects.

He says it could be used in the fruit and wine industries where the ants are a growing problem.

The research also found the ants carry a virus normally associated with bee colony collapse and could have a devastating effect on New Zealand's honey bees.

The exotic ants are so pervasive they exist on every continent except Antarctica, destroying crops and becoming a problem for households in urban areas.

Prof Lester says nearly all of New Zealand's Argentine ant population has the Deformed Wing Virus – a pathogen associated with the collapse of honey bee colonies.

He says this makes the ants more problematic than first thought because their population is so great and they're widely distributed.

"Argentine ants are known to raid beehives and also forage in the same environment as honey bees. Such close contact is bad for bees, as their association promotes pathogen exchange," he says.

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