300 living harvester ants smuggled from Europe busted by Shanghai customs
Published: Aug 28, 2022 07:19 PM
Photo: Screenshot from Sina Weibo

Photo: Screenshot from Sina Weibo

Shanghai customs recently intercepted 300 living harvester ants that were being smuggled into China disguised as Lego toys. The ants originate from the southern parts of Europe, customs officials said. 

The living ants kept separately in 300 tubes made of epoxy resin were seized by the Shanghai customs at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. 

The customs officials found that the 300 ants were kept one in each tube containing a wet cotton ball and with the air holes left to ensure the ants to survive the long-distance transportation while being smuggled into China alive. 

These ants were identified as harvester ants that are common in Morocco, France, Spain, Portugal and other southern parts of Europe. They have been handed over to related department for a follow-up investigation. 

In China, there is no natural distribution of the wild species of harvester ants that have the special habit of eating and collecting all kinds of plant seeds and the strong reproductive capacity, but some Chinese collectors have kept this species of ants as pets in recent years, according to media reports. 

Many insect enthusiasts appreciate the ants' tremendous body sizes which can be 12 millimeters in length and their beautiful colors. They keep the harvester ants and observe them collect and store seeds and cereals for fun. 

Like squirrels, the ants spare no effort in collecting and storing seeds as their foods and they will dry their storage regularly. 

However, this species of ants can also pose risks to China's native ant populations and affect wild plants in China once they enter the natural environment. 

Researches show that harvester ants would attack other species of ants and eat their eggs when there is food shortage. Besides, harvester ants live on not only common species of plants but also on crops such as corn and rice. 

China's General Administration of Customs reiterated that except for pet dogs and cats that meet the requirements of the administration, live animals, including all mammals, birds, fish, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates, as well as animal genetic materials, are not allowed to be carried or sent into China. 

The harvester ants have been intercepted by Chinese customs many times over the past few years, according to media reports. 

Between late October and early November in 2015, the airport customs in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, intercepted a total of 1,012 living ants, the majority of which were harvest ants, according to West China City Daily.

In March and December of 2020, the customs in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province, and the customs in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province, intercepted 11 and 204 living harvester ants respectively. 

Global Times