Even tiny ants can get entangled in plastic waste

Even tiny ants can get entangled in plastic waste

One ant was found ensnared in a thin strip of red plastic fiber. Another ant was wrapped in a black plastic fiber.

We have all seen images of birds, turtles and various other marine animals entrapped in large pieces of plastic waste. It turns out, however, that other creatures far less visible to us can likewise find themselves entangled in plastic waste.

A case in point: ants on the Canary Islands.

Scientists who studied 113 ants they had collected from the volcanic island of La Palma found that one Lasius grandis ant had been ensnared in a thin strip of red plastic fiber. Another ant of a different species had in turn been wrapped in a black plastic fiber.

These ants are among the first recorded cases of terrestrial invertebrates entangled in plastic waste, the researchers note. The fibres did not cause the death of the ants as they had been collected alive and they also appeared undamaged.

That does not mean, however, that other entangled ants will be just as lucky.

“It is unclear how or where ants may become entangled in these fibres, but it could happen accidentally while foraging, although they could be using or misidentifying the fibres as food or initially carrying them for construction material,” the scientists explain in their study.

“[I]n recent years it has been shown how bottles and cans act as a trap for invertebrates. The entanglement of individuals with lethal and sublethal effects is one of the main threats associated with plastics, as shown in marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds,” the scientists note.

The results of their research indicate that  interactions of plastic waste with invertebrates can “occur in less-humanized habitats, reinforcing the idea that plastic pollution might be a widespread threat for terrestrial ecosystems currently overlooked,” they emphasize.

Ants are not the only invertebrates affected either. Recent studies have shown that earthworms, aquatic insects such as Chironomus riparius and springtails often end up ingesting microplastics, thereby suffering a variety of dire consequences.

“These last 15 years, we have acquired enormous knowledge about what happens in marine ecosystems, but it is time to expand to other systems and species for obtaining a greater perspective,” stresses Álvaro Luna an urban ecologist at the European University of Madrid.

This story first appeared on Sustainability Times


Photo:  Armand Rausell-Moreno

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