Despite the threat of North Korean missiles, seismic instability and economic malaise, a smaller but potentially fatal danger has been dominating news in Japan: the fire ant.
Concerns over the spread of the biting pest, found in Japan for the first time ever this year, have made national headlines and boosted shares in pesticide maker Fumakilla Ltd. to their highest level since the 1980s bubble economy.
The threat from fire ants intensified last week when the Environment Ministry confirmed that a queen ant had been found in the fourth infestation it discovered to date.
The discovery is serious as queen ants can lay over 1,000 eggs a day. While no eggs have been found, the ministry is looking into whether the ants have built a nest.
The aggressive insects, native to South America, have spread to North America and Asia over the years through cargo, raising extermination costs wherever they become a nuisance.
Fumakilla shares have gained a third since authorities first discovered the ants last month at a port in Hyogo Prefecture. Since then, the ants have been exterminated in Aichi, Osaka and Tokyo.
Fumakilla has been quick to tout its credentials, releasing a statement after initial reports of the sightings that asserted its pesticides would work against the insects. It also warned that stings from fire ants can occasionally be fatal, and discouraged approaching the ants due to their aggressive nature. It also promoted products it said can ward off the pests.
The discovery of the queen ant prompted the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry to order extermination measures at 63 ports that get regular cargo shipments from China. It called for 870 other ports to take similar measures if they accept container cargo from China.
“It is crucial to block them from entering at an early stage,” said Shigeto Dobata, assistant professor of insect ecology at Kyoto University. “It will be extremely difficult to exterminate them once they take root,”
The reddish-brown ants have blackish-red bellies and range from 2.5 mm to 6 mm in length. Their stings are known to cause anaphylaxis, which can lead to breathing problems.