Look for slow-moving lines of extremely small ants along the edges of concrete paths and walls. Electric ants are not workaholics that build mounds or dig complicated tunnels. They prefer to move into pre-existing spaces providing shade and a little moisture, so they can be found under rocks and timber, in pot plants (including under the bottom and in the saucer), in piles of mulch and garden waste, around the edges of flower beds, and under shrubs. Other places they use include narrow gaps in garden furniture, camping gear and bedding, and behind bark on trees and in forks of branches.
Because electric ants are so tiny, people stung by them can blame mosquitoes or sand flies for welts they develop after enjoying the garden or sitting on the veranda. Gardeners trimming branches or harvesting fruit can attract stings on the neck and torso, from ants falling from foliage. The ants can survive on the water surface, so people in swimming pools are also stung.
On garden plants and fruit trees electric ants (like many other ants) visit aphids, scales and mealybugs to imbibe the honeydew they release, so they can be detected in the company of these.
Pets can indicate their presence. Cats and dogs may be stung by ants attracted to their food and water bowls. Cloudy corneas can indicate electric ant stings to eyes. Stings to the skin can produce a mangy appearance.
If the eyes of pets become cloudy this can be from electric ants stinging their corneas. A mangy appearance can be from electric ant stings to the skin.
Native to Central and South America, electric ants were first detected in Cairns in 2006. They have not found in Australia away from the Cairns region but may occur elsewhere, awaiting detection.
These ants do best in the tropics, but occur as well in some temperate locations, including south-eastern Argentina, Israel, and southern Spain, suggesting a capacity to survive in Australia in southern NSW and southern Western Australia.
Electric ant. Photo: © The State of Queensland | Department of Agriculture and Fisheries