Carnivorous Argentine ants that have invaded coastal California devour other insects. When that food's gone, the ants become vegetarians.
The amazingly adaptive behavior, detailed in what is the first study of this ant's diet, has allowed the invaders to spread successfully and rapidly.
The tiny dark-brown and black critters, an invasive species originally from Argentina, have infested coastal communities and displaced native ant species, even though many of the locals are 10 times larger than the Argentinians.
The new finding, based on an eight-year study of a population of ants in the foothills southeast of San Diego, reveals how the alien ants thrive so well in a foreign land. Their success is linked to their dietary versatility, according to results detailed in this week's online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
|©Credit: Marc Dantzker
|Argentine ants fighting. These ants are thought to have come to the United States from Argentina aboard ships in the 1890s.