Israeli Experts Fear Invasion of Yellow Crazy Ant That Wreaks Havoc on Crops

Environmentalists cite the East Asian insect as one of eight invasive species Israel must defend itself against

Yellow crazy ants, the insects who keep Israeli environmental groups awake at night.
Forest & Kim Starr (USGS) via Wikimedia Commons

A small ant from East Asia, dubbed "nature's bully," is keeping Israeli environmental groups awake at night. The ant, whose official name is the yellow crazy ant, has in recent years caused heavy damage to ecological systems and has wreaked havoc with crops in various part of the world, with local experts fearing it could reach Israel.

In a new report, written by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel in conjunction with the Nature and Parks Authority, the SPNI warns that the ant is one of eight invasive species of flora and fauna that could reach the area, and suggests preparing as soon as possible to prevent their entry.

The report, entitled “The Path to National Ecological Security,” will be presented this month to the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, which will have a special session on coping with invasive species. These are species that succeed in stowing away in cargo or luggage on planes and ships and reaching new areas where they have no natural enemies. They thus reproduce rapidly, often causing environmental damage and sometimes even threatening public health.

The species mentioned are liable to spread rapidly in Israel, whose climate is hospitable to their reproduction and trade ties with those countries where these species are found. The yellow crazy ant lives in large groups and attacks birds and reptiles with an acidic excretion. It also harms plant tissue and can destroy crops like bananas.

Invasion of the Yellow Crazy Ants

Another threat comes from the palm borer, a large moth from South America that attacks palm trees and could pose a threat to Israel’s successful date industry. The larvae of the moth bore into the heart of the palm tree’s trunk and into its leaves. Also feared is the New Guinea Flatworm, which carries a parasite that could cause meningitis and thus poses a public health threat. It also attacks mollusks.

Another threat is the New Zealand mud snail, which pushes out local species.

Invasive plants also pose a serious environmental threat. The list of eight threatening species includes the Alligator Weed, which comes from South America. It crosses borders in the ballast of ships, and can survive both in water and on land. It spreads quickly and blocks access to light and oxygen in pools of water, which can seriously harm the quality of water and the flora and fauna in lakes, winter pools and streams.

The new report recommends developing tools to better control the infiltration of invasive species. “Israel’s borders are open to the infiltration of species that threaten nature, infrastructures and public health,” explained Alon Rothschild, the SPNI’s biodiversity coordinator. “This phenomenon, if not dealt with properly and in time, will cause ecological destruction and significant health and economic damage.

“The government environmental protection agencies don’t have the legal authority to deal with this phenomenon,” he continued. “There must be a law that will give them the authority and the professional tools to deal with invasive species, by regulating the import, commerce and possession of these species. The biggest challenge is preventing inadvertent invasion, like through cargo in which unwanted ‘hitchhikers’ are hiding.”