Not long after Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World, hordes of viciously stinging ants assailed the island of Hispaniola, pouring into homes and ravaging the Spanish colonists' newly planted crops of oranges, pomegranates and cassia trees. People had to place the legs of their beds in containers of water to avoid being covered in ants during the night.
Two centuries later, a different plague of ants laid waste sugar plantations in the islands of Martinique, Barbados and Grenada.
But which ants? And why did they strike when they did?
After centuries of mystery, ant aficionado Edward O. Wilson, emeritus research professor of Harvard University, believes he has found the culprits behind these two devastating plagues.
Wilson, renowned for his research and writings on natural history and evolutionary theory, pored through historical documents for physical descriptions of the insects and their habits, then matched them against his knowledge of the region's ants.
Key clues for the Hispaniola ant emerged from the writings of colonist Bartolome de Las Casas, who described the ants as swarming around the root systems of trees and shrubs, leaving above-ground vegetation undamaged. He also stressed how painful their bite was.