Hoteliers in the UK are being warned to look out for a new breed of unwelcome guests, in the form of a new generation of tropical ants.
Previously unknown in the UK until recently, the pests are said to now be establishing significant colonies in several areas of the country.
Hotels create perfect living conditions for the insects and, because they’re so difficult to contain, it’s feared the problem is likely to get worse.
Species such as pharoah and argentine ants have been in the UK for decades, but others including ghost, crazy and big-headed ants have emerged from all over the world to pose a risk to public health.
Some will bite or sting and they can carry a wide range of disease organisms such as streptococcus, which causes infections. They can also contract salmonella, which makes them particularly dangerous if they contaminate food.
Pest control companies have reported a significant increase in the number of infestations in Britain in the last few years.
The trend is being blamed on the continuing growth of world trade along with the increasing popularity of multi-occupancy buildings such as flats and tower blocks, which provide perfect conditions for the insects.
Pest expert David Cross, of independent register BASIS PROMPT, says hotels provide ideal living conditions for the insects, which need constant warmth to survive.
He added: “Most tropical ants can’t live outside, but they can thrive in places where heating is on all the time.
“Areas around heated water pipes in particular create an ideal environment and they’ll often be found foraging for protein or sugars around bins or behind fridges – they’ll generally head to areas where food is manufactured or prepared.”
Colonies of some tropical ants can contain up to 200 queens – a fact which makes treatment of an infestation particularly difficult.
Mr Cross added: “Colonies native to Britain such as the black garden ant typically have one queen, which makes infestations relatively easy to eradicate.
“But many of the tropical species we’re seeing in this country now have multiple queens. If a nest is disturbed, some of the queens set up another colony in a different part of the building.
“People could end spreading the problem, rather than removing it, so treatment is specialised and proper control techniques must be used – it’s a job for the experts.”