Invasion of the Electric Ants! Fears fire-starting bugs will sweep UK after colony of a million insects is found
Britain is bracing itself for a summer invasion of 'electric ants' after the country's largest ever colony was found in Eastbourne
The ants, also called Asian Super Ants, arrived in the UK in imported pot plants and the first colony was found in Gloucestershire in 2009.
The ants, also called Asian Super Ants, arrived in the UK in imported pot plants and the first colony was found in Gloucestershire in 2009
Since then, colonies have been found in Essex, London, Norfolk, Cambridge, Yorkshire and Suffolk, with a huge colony of up to one million electric ants now found in Eastbourne in East Sussex.
Previously, the biggest ever colony found in the UK was at the National Trust's Hidcote Manor Gardens in Gloucestershire, where 35,000 Asian Super Ants were discovered in just one junction box in 2009.
This new infestation, which stretches across two residential streets in Eastbourne, is estimated to be around one million-strong.
Colonies of the Electric Ants, which get their nickname as they are attracted to electricity cables and junction boxes, often causing blackouts and fires in business and homes - can reach a massive 100m and interconnected nests can stretch for miles, sometimes spanning up to 50 acres.
The ants, which have the scientific name Lasius Neglectus, are native to Uzbekistan, Turkey and some parts of southeastern Europe, but first arrived in the UK in 2009 in imported pot plants.
Worries have now been raised that the huge colony in Eastbourne could signal a mass invasion across the country.
Paul Bates, the boss of Cleankill Pest Control, said that the colony of electric ants in Eastbourne - currently being dealt with - was the biggest he had seen.
The colony spreads out between two large residential roads and affecting dozens of homes in the seaside town.
He said: 'It's the biggest infestation I've heard of in Britain - it stretches across two residential streets in Eastbourne and if it wasn't caught in time it could have spread exponentially.
'We are dealing with it at the moment, but would warn people to look out for them as they are attracted to electricity and can cause blackouts and fires.'
He estimated that there were 1m or more ants in the colony and urged any locals to keep an eye out for the pests should the colony have extended from the area.
He added: 'Electric ants can be very disruptive as they will gather around cables or junction boxes and can cause them to short out - this can result in blackouts and, in the worst cases, fires.
'Our main worry is more have come into the UK in imported potted plants and that we will have difficulty getting rid of them as they are resistant to the treatments we would normally use for ants.'
Bosses at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have been alerted to the infestation in Eastbourne.
They commissioned a report soon after the Gloucestershire colony was found to assess the potential spread of the ants, with options for control and eradication put in place.
The University of York, which worked on the risk assessment for the Government, estimated that electric ants could cost the UK £1.7bn every year through damage and management costs.
Dr Elva Robinson, a lecturer in ecology at the University of York, said previously that electric ants - which look similar to black garden ants, but are more aggressive - could have a 'big impact' on our native ecosystem.
She said: 'We think the invasive ants have the potential to have a big impact on the native ecosystem. In the sites we have studied, it is clear they are excluding the native ants.
'They are clearly dominating, and where they cluster, native species are being pushed out.'