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Monitoring the online ant trade reveals high biological invasion risk


Ants are traded as pets across the globe, but if introduced outside of their native ranges they could become invasive with dire environmental and economic consequences. We demonstrate how geotagged e-commerce information can be utilized for biosecurity risk assessment. We monitored online pet ant sales in China and found that 58,937 ant colonies from 209 species were sold by 206 sellers in 89 cities across the country in six months. More than a quarter of the traded species were not native to China. Trait-based analysis revealed that the most sought-after ants have higher invasive potential than less popular species. Climate-based distribution models suggest that 24.7 % of the non-native species could find suitable climatic conditions in the cities from which they were sold. If released, pet ants could interfere with urban ecosystems, rural agriculture, and spill over to threaten back-country habitats with high biodiversity. Based on our analysis we offer guidelines on wildlife trade policy and management: (1) we provide a list of potentially invasive ants sold in each Chinese city; (2) we identify the highest risk of a non-native ant introduction at the Greater Bay area of subtropical southern China; (3) we highlight the absence of within-country permitting requirements which resulted in invasive species being transported across Chinese provincial lines. Worldwide, similar wildlife trade records are only accessible to conservation practitioners cognizant of local languages and customs. We encourage grassroot web scraping of under-monitored, fast-developing economies to gather information crucial for guiding regional policy decisions.


  • Acromyrmex octospinosus
  • Camponotus
  • Messor
  • Monomorium pharaonis
  • Pheidole megacephala


Type File Size
Pest Risk Analysis Download 5,04MB

PRA Area

  • China