We are still discovering unexpected ways pests cause problems. An ant called the little fire ant causes eye lesions that can hinder vision or even cause blindness, according to a recent article in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
It has been suspected for many years by many scientists and veterinarians that the little fire ant can cause lesions of the cornea, called leukomas. But there has been no proof, and the cause of the condition was debated in the medical community.
The little fire ant, about as long as a penny is thick, has a painful sting, like other fire ants. It often falls from trees when the wind blows. If it gets on an eye of a person, pet, or wild animal, the natural instinct is to blink, which triggers the ant to sting. Apparently, it is the toxin the ant injects that causes the lesions.
The little fire ant has spread from Central and South America and is now in parts of Florida, South Texas and Hawaii. The eye lesions were first reported in cats in Florida in 1979, and later in dogs and other animals. Soon after the ant invaded Hawaii in 1999, veterinarians, in areas where the ants had invaded, started seeing animals with these eye lesions.
Interestingly, people in parts of Columbia, where the ant is native, have long attributed the eye lesions to the ants. As early as the year 2000 there were reports that these people knew the ants caused the eye lesions because they had experienced the ants falling into their eyes while they worked in the jungle.