Ants discovered at Port could have caused big problems - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Ants discovered at Port could have caused big problems

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The Charleston area may have seen significant problems from a tiny insect that rode its way into the Port of Charleston in a container ship filled with scrap aluminum.

Back in April, U.S. Border and Customs Protection agents discovered bigheaded ants in a container from Costa Rica. While the bigheaded ants are no bigger than normal ants, agents quarantined the container out of fear the ants may affect life in the Charleston area because it is a foreign species.

"It could become a pest digging up the soil around the sidewalk or around pipes or around electrical equipment," Dr. John Weaver said. "It's an alien species, so we are not sure of what it might do here."

Once the agents discovered the ants crawling around in the container, Weaver and other officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were called in to further investigate the ants. Weaver tells News 2 because these insects did not originate in the Charleston area, there are no predators to keep the population in check, meaning the Lowcountry could have seen a boom in the ants.

That population boom happened in Hawaii where officials are blaming the disappearance of several native species on the bigheaded ants. Customs officials said they are the only ones who are in charge of making sure a similar situation doesn't happen here in Charleston.

"We are the first line of defense to organisms becoming established and of course there have been many examples of introductions that have been harmful not only to our economy but also to our natural resources," Stephen Switzer said.

Switzer believes the ants made their way into the container because they are attracted to the residue of soda.

"Aluminum scrap just happens to be a commodity with soda cans, so therefore ants are attracted to sugar and syrupy materials.," Switzer said. "We found they are commonly found with aluminum scrap coming in from many countries throughout the world."

For now the container carrying the ants sits in quarantine in Mount Pleasant. Officials are waiting for the owner of the container to pay to have the ants exterminated before the container is allowed to leave the area.

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