Species protection: What makes ants a problem as pets

The international trade in ants as pets has been booming for years. However, according to a Swiss study, it could threaten biodiversity in many places. In the global animal trade, it is precisely those species that are overrepresented and commercially successful that spread easily in non-resident regions, write Cleo Bertelsmeier and Jérôme Gippet from the Institute for Ecology and Evolution in Lausanne, Switzerland in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The problem with the animal trade goes beyond ants: Invasive species are also clearly overrepresented in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish – their proportion is a good 7.4 times greater than in the total pool of species. Invasive ant species are 6.6 times more common in the pet trade than would be the case with natural distribution. “Our results underline the urgent need to regulate the global trade in living animals – including invertebrates – internationally,” the researchers say. The current rules are inadequate.

No restrictions on ants trading

According to the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), invasive species are those that spread through human influence in regions in which they were not previously native, be it in luggage and goods, for example on board ships or through the animal trade. They often have undesirable effects on other species, communities or biotopes because they compete with native species for habitat and resources and can also displace them.

In general, species with large areas of distribution and few special demands on their environment spread more often where they are not actually native, as the Lausanne study says. The fact that they are above average in the pet trade could be due, on the one hand, to the fact that traders can get hold of these species more easily because they are widespread. On the other hand, they may also be more attractive for buyers because they are easier to care for than species with special needs.

For animal dealers, ants are an easy business because a queen with a small flock of animals can easily be sent by post, according to the study. There are no restrictions on the trade in ants, although it is well known how much they can threaten the ecosystem in a new environment.

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