Saturday, November 12, 2011

Illegal Ant Smuggling?

Yesterday the news started circulating about Gerhard Kalytta getting caught for "Ant Smuggling." The headlines read German fined for Aussie smuggling ants from Perth.

On September 7th Kalytta tried to smuggle some 3000 ants of 50 different species in about 153 plastic containers out of Australia. While the news article points out these included Bulldog ants which have a violently painful, sometimes lethal, sting, I can't help but wonder if this was the real issue.

About a year ago it seems they started offering plants on their website. "Now Offering Plants" dated August 22, 2010. That's more than a year old but has now became part of their regular inventory.

Native plants such as lichen, native moss, hornworts, liverworts and an orchid species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) were also seized.
That orchid to me is the red flag of the story. And the fact he only got a $3,000 fine when the maximum is 10 years in jail and or a fine of $110,000, just screams how lucky he is.  It's safe to say he got off easy.

It is really easy to just ship ants through the mail. The only downside is if they pass through an X-Ray it will cause spontaneous abortion. In other words queen ants who fertile and able to produce female workers lose this ability! They can only produce males. The other issue is constant shaking will cause water to leak through materials. Typically ants need to be kept in high humidity, which means they need a water basin. This works okay locally but I don't trust it. If they live that close, I'd rather go to their house or meet them halfway. But if we live that close, then why don't we just go anting and help each other find our own?
As you may have guessed, I've shipped ants before. I've never done it for money, and I don't do it anymore. I've found the kind of person who needs ants that badly that they want you to send them a colony is an idiot. Plane and simple. Catching queen ants is easy, but takes time and patience and efforts to explore locations need to be made. The person (customer?) who wants to get (pay?) someone for a colony of ants has no patience and isn't willing to learn. On the few occasions that I've mailed colonies to friends the always report back how much they screwed up and the colony died. Maybe it's more a sign of how young or uncommon the hobby is.

International shipping typically takes 3 weeks for anything to arrive anywhere and that's a long time and a lot of stress to put on a colony. 

Sensitive plants can be a different issue and I don't know too much about their care, especially tropical species. When I've bought native bare root plants though they're typically wrapped in damp newspaper or medium, and tightly bound in a plastic bag. Three weeks worth of shipping would be murder on some species, especially tropical plants which are more sensitive about temperature.

Going back to our topic. I feel like "Ant Smuggling" just made a catchy headline. Granted he had 153 containers of them. I don't understand how someone shows up to an air port with that and doesn't expect someone to raise an eyebrow. In fact when I first read the story I assumed the ant containers were hidden among the plants, but then we read about the endangered species of orchid which would raise several eyebrows on it's own.

Assuming I'm wrong though and it was the ants initially that got this man fined, then that's just a sign of how rampant the ant keeping hobby has become.