World’s Biggest Ants Coming to Reykjavík Zoo

dinoponera australis ant

“These are the largest ants found in nature,” said Þorkell Heiðarsson, department head at the Reykjavík Zoo and Family Park, about the giant ants on their way to Reykjavík’s little zoo from their current home in Brazil. Þorkell discussed the ants on RÚV morning radio today. The bugs belong to the genus Dinoponera, found only in the jungles of South America. Female worker ants of the genus can grow to 3-4cm (1.18-1.57in) in length.

In order to import the crawly creatures, the zoo needed permission from both Icelandic and Brazilian authorities. The ants coming to Iceland are not exactly jungle dwellers, however: they will be taken from a Sao Paolo university lab where they are bred for study. The Dinoponera specimens won’t be the first ants to call the zoo home: leafcutter ants were once exhibited there as well. Leafcutters are much smaller than the zoo’s expected residents, but they have a very complex social structure. “They grow mushrooms to feed their offspring, have been gardening and farming since time immemorial,” Þorkell says. “They have many castes, which range from two millimetres to just over one centimetre long.”

The giant ants on their way to Reykjavík Zoo are much larger, but their social organisation is not nearly as stratified. “There isn’t as much division of labour and way fewer ants in each colony, just a few dozen, instead of even millions.” Þorkell says the ants are popular among children and have significant educational value, by making it possible to “observe how little insects maintain complex social systems like people do.”

In general, animal imports are banned in Iceland, and the Reykjavík Zoo houses mostly Icelandic farm animals. It does, however, have a few more exotic specimens such as lizards and a snake. The ants were granted an exception by Icelandic authorities, which considered them low risk, as they are unlikely to survive and propagate in Iceland were they to escape. “These ants are tropical animals and there is no way they can survive in the wild in Iceland,” Þorkell explained.

Brazilian authorities have yet to give the full go-ahead for the ants’ export, though if all goes as planned, they could be at the zoo in just a few weeks. Þorkell is unsure whether he will handle the delivery personally. “These ants are very hardy and can sting and cause a lot of pain. [They] are related to bees and wasps. So I won’t promise anything in that regard.”

Glacial Outburst Flood Expected This Month

The Met Office continues to monitor Múlakvísl river closely, as a glacial outburst flood is expected in the river this month, RÚV reports. Conductivity is high in the South Iceland river, measuring around 170 microsiemens per centimetre, and water levels in the river are relatively high, says Sigurdís Björg Jónasdóttir, a specialist at the Met Office. Sigurdís says these conditions have been steady throughout July and it is difficult to say when the flood will begin.

In recent years, Múlakvísl river has experienced a glacial outburst flood annually, with the exception of last year. Experts are expecting a larger flood this year, however. Eyjólfur Magnússon, a glacial research specialist at the University of Iceland, told the news agency that the flood would likely occur this month.

Specialists expect the flood’s onset to be sudden. The river’s last glacial outburst flood was detected only 45 minutes before it began. Múlakvísl flows under Route 1 in South Iceland, so it is possible the flood could affect traffic in the area.

Big Losses Yet Growing Profits for Icelandair

Icelandair

Despite operational challenges and significant losses in the first half of 2019, Icelandair’s profits appear to be on the way up, RÚV reports. The airline is reporting rising average revenue per passenger and rising fares for the first time since 2015.

Icelandair lost almost ISK 11 billion ($89.6 million/€80.7 million) in the second quarter this year, according to the financial report published by the company last week. Much of its losses are attributed to costs and lost revenue from the grounding of its three Boeing 737 Max 8 planes this spring due to safety concerns.

WOW bankruptcy proves beneficial

Nevertheless, the airline has several reasons to look on the bright side. Besides higher revenue per passenger and rising fares, and its number of passengers has also increased dramatically. In July, Icelandair transported 564,000 passengers, a 9% increase compared to July 2018. In particular, the number of passengers the company flew to Iceland reached a record high, increased by a third compared to July last year. The company’s number of passengers from Iceland also increased by one quarter, whereas the number of transfer passengers decreased by 10%.

In a press release, the company attributed these numbers to a deliberate shift in operations, which prioritised passengers flying to and from Iceland rather than those stopping over in the country as a response to the grounding of the three Boeing planes. The company has also prioritised improving the punctuality of their flights, as it has had to pay high amounts in compensation due to delays. Those efforts are showing results, as 71% of the companies landed punctually in July compared to just 51% in the same month last year.

Cash injection

US hedge fund PAR Capital Management bought an 11% stake in Icelandair Group in April. The additional capital is expected to solidify Icelandair’s financial situation and better prepare it for growth in the near future.