Vollenhovia emeryi is one of the more recent ants to have established in North America. The first record of this Japanese transplant came from Stefan Cover of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Cover discovered the species in 1986 while sampling for ants in Washington, DC. Vollenhovia species tend to be generalists and the native range of the genus is restricted to Asia, northeastern Australia, and the Pacific Islands, and are not generally thought of as successful tramp ants.
How then did this demure little species come to arrive in the capital city of the United States? The answer might be linked to a tale often told of that city’s namesake, George Washington. Legend has it that when George Washington was a six-year-old lad he chopped down a cherry tree. When confronted by his father, young George replied, “I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.”
Cherry trees may, in fact, have been how Vollenhovia emeryi became introduced into the United States. Japan has gifted the cities of Washington DC and Philadelphia thousands of cherry trees during the past century, many of which were planted in localities where V. emeryi is known to occur. Dan Kjar raises the possibility that colonies of these little ants stowed away in the rootballs of the cherry trees, and have slowly been expanding their range along the riparian habitats of the District of Colombia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania ever since.