‘Fiery’ ants that pack a burning sting and get everywhere

GEORGE TOWN: These large ants of about 1cm long are unlike other ants; the black and red bi-coloured arboreal ants have a sting at the end of its abdomen.

They can sting repeatedly and inject venom that can cause swelling and blisters that last for days, and potentially anaphylactic shock which can cause fainting spells, vomiting and difficulty in breathing if you have allergies.

Known locally as Semut Selangor or Semut Ipoh, they are common in Penang, especially in children’s playgrounds or neighbourhood parks where there are large trees.

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Additionally, because of litter bugs among us, their colonies get extra food to grow to mega proportions.

At least three large trees in the Pulau Tikus Pocket Courtyard along Jalan Burma were recently found to have colonies of these ants.

Thousands of them crawl around the children’s swings, benches and tables on the courtyard, and most people are oblivious to the danger of being stung.

Pulau Tikus assemblyman Joshua Woo has asked Penang Island City Council (MBPP) to frequently spray insecticide around the trees.

“But that is not a lasting solution. Our problem is leftover food,” he said.

Woo added that many people liked sitting at the benches and tables under the shady trees of this courtyard to have their meals.

“When they don’t clean up after themselves, it is the bits of leftover food that allow those ant colonies to grow to such proportions that they become a danger to people,” he said.

He said according to experts he consulted, these ants seldom forage for enough food in the wild to establish mega-colonies.

Woo said that he is considering installing signs at the courtyard to educate the public and urge them to practise civic-mindedness.

Entomologist Associate Prof Dr Abdul Hafiz Ab Majid said in Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) survey of hundreds of trees in Penang, infestations were dominant in areas with human litter and dead leaves left on the ground.

“They are common in places like Batu Uban, Sungai Tiram, Bayan Lepas, Medan Angsana, Lebuh Rambai, Bukit Jambul, Batu Maung, Jesselton Avenue, Lorong Air Terjun and even USM.

“Local authorities need to be quick to clear rubbish bins in playgrounds and parks, and fallen leaves must be regularly swept away.

“When they find more food than what is naturally available, the colonies’ nests can grow to sizes that cause fissures in trees to crack open, which can cause the death of the trees,” he added.

He said there had been cases of people being warded into the intensive care unit because they had allergies or were stung too many times.

“Once stung, the best advice is to go straight to a clinic to get it checked and get an antibiotic shot.

“Look out for shortness of breath, serious swelling and dizziness,” he said.

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Penang , Bi-Coloured Arboreal Ants


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