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Technomyrmex difficilis, sometimes mistakenly called the white-footed ant (or WFA; see below), is a formicid “tramp ant” that has spread, possibly originally from Madagascar, through many parts of the old world tropics along with humans.  This ant is 2.5-3mm long, and does not sting or bite, but is a significant pest species.  Like other ants in the species group Albipes (to which T. difficilis belongs), T. difficilis uses a technique of colony reproduction that is unique in the Formicidae, which involves production of “reproductive worker-queen intercast” individuals, allowing colonies to multiply quickly by fissioning into multiple nests and reproduce in large numbers.  Colonies can range from 8000-3 million individuals.  These ants nest in the ground, in trees, and on and in homes.  Colonies cover large areas, populating diverse ecosystems and negatively impact pollinators, pollination and seed dispersal, and native species (Bolton 2007).  Because they protect honeydew-producing aphids, mealybugs, and scales, they impact agriculture in many countries and through tending of these insects also spread disease, such as pineapple wilt.  They are also a nuisance pest, foraging and nesting in homes (Warner et al. 2010).   

In 1986 T. difficilis was first reported in the New World in 1986 in Miami-Dade County, Florida.  Since then it has spread not only across many other Florida counties, but also across the Southern US and all the way to Seattle, Washington (where it was found in the Seattle Zoo), as well as in five west Indies countries: Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Nevis, and Antigua (Wetterer 2008).  It is considered an important pest in Florida (Warner et al. 2010), and Wetterer (2008) predicts: “It is probable that over the next few years T. difficilis will become increasingly important as a pest in Florida and the West Indies.”

This species has been frequently misidentified as and confused with T. albipes in museum collections and in the literature.  Wetterer 2008 notes that T. difficilis has no common name, but should in order to emphasize that this is not the same species as T. albipes, the white-footed ant, with which it is often confused.  Wetterer proposes the common name difficult techno ant, alluding to Teckne, Greek goddess of art and craft, and reflecting how difficult this ant is to control, as well as the difficulties that Florel (1892) had in initially describing the species because its characteristics were so often intermediate between T. albipes and T. mayri

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© Dana Campbell

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