The electric ant, a small insect native of South America which leaves painful, irritating bites on humans, has been sighted for the first time in Spain, more precisely in one residential area of Marbella.
According to the Ecological and Forestry Applications Research Centre (CREAF-UAB), this tiny ant, measuring just one millimetre in length, has a bite that is painful to humans and can leave an animal blind if bitten in the eye.
The researchers at CREAF explained that both domestic and wild animals, ranging from cats to baby elephants, have been blinded by the ant's poison.
As well as being known as the electric ant, the insect is also nicknamed the "little fire ant" because its bite is intense and leaves a burning sensation on the skin.
At the moment, the ant has only been detected in Marbella, but it is likely to spread, according to experts at CREAF. The Wasmannia auropunctata, the scientific name for the ant, already occupies around six hectares of residential area.
The discovery of the ant was first published in the Iberomyrmex journal, in a scientific article, in collaboration with CREAF-UAB researcher Xavier Espadaler, who said he has informed Marbella town council, which has so far not commented on the matter.
The alarm was raised when a plague control firm received a call from someone complaining of a "small, biting ant" matching the description of the electric ant, which had come through a crack in the wall of a Marbella development.
"We thought that we would manage to eradicate them but they had already spread throughout the area and it was impossible," explained Espadaler. "They are so small they are almost undetectable, so you really have to know what you are looking for. It is quite possible that they are in other places and just have not been sighted," added the biologist.
The electric ant normally lives in warm, humid climates, like those found in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific islands and northeast Australia. They are often found around coffee and cocoa plantations.
Marbella, together with some parts of Israel, is the most northern place this species is found.
"To wipe out the [ant] population the gardens must be treated, and irrigation should be stopped for two years," recommended Espadaler.