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Hairy, Crazy Ants Are On the Move

November 5, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

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Do you hate fire ants? Well, the good news is that fire ants have practically been wiped out in parts of America.

A male Nylanderia pubens (hairy, crazy ant) specimen is seen in Starkville, Mississippi, November 6, 2009. (Credit: AP/Mississippi State Entomological Museum, Joe MacGown)

The bad news is they were wiped out by something much, much worse: the crazy, hairy ants—and they’re on the move and no one’s really sure what to do about it.

The flea-sized critters are called crazy because each forager scrambles randomly at a speed that your average ant, marching one by one, reaches only in video fast-forward. They’re called hairy because of fuzz that, to the naked eye, makes their abdomens look less glossy than those of their slower, bigger cousins, reports the Associated Press.

They’re on the move in Florida, Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In Texas, they’ve invaded homes and industrial complexes, urban and rural areas. They travel in cargo containers, hay bales, potted plants, motorcycles, and moving vans. They overwhelm beehives—one Texas beekeeper was losing 100 a year in 2009. They short out industrial equipment. And they will eat just about anything—plant or animal.

Scientists have found that if one gets electrocuted, the ant that’s been fried releases a chemical message to his ant brothers and sisters indicating that there’s been a threat to the colony: “Guys. I’ve been electrocuted. Let’s find out whoever did this and take them down. Also: Make babies. We’re going to need reinforcement.”

“The other ants rush in. Before long, you have a ball of ants,” said Roger Gold, an entomology professor at Texas A&M

A worker Nylanderia pubens (hairy, crazy ant) specimen is seen in Starkville, Mississippi, November 6, 2009. (Credit: AP/Mississippi State Entomological Museum, Joe MacGown)

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Control is expensive, ranging from $275 to thousands of dollars a year for the 1,000 homes he’s treated in the past month. Still, he’s never seen the ants force someone out of their home, said exterminator Tom Rasberry, who found the first Texas specimens of the species in the Houston area in 2002.

A computer system controlling pipeline valves shorted out twice in about 35 days, but monthly treatments there now keep the bugs at bay, Rasberry said.

“We’re kind of going for overkill on that particular site because so much is at stake,” he said. “If that shuts down, they could literally shut down an entire chemical plant that costs millions of dollars.”

And, compared to other ants, these need overkill. For instance, Gold said, if 100,000 are killed by pesticides, millions more will follow.

Think that’s bad? It gets worse…

“I did a test site with a product early on and applied the product to a half-acre. In 30 days I had two inches of dead ants covering the entire half-acre,” Rasberry said. “It looked like the top of the dead ants was just total movement from all the live ants on top of the dead ants.”

Texas has temporarily approved two chemicals in its effort to control the ants, and other states are looking at ways to curb their spread.

The ants are probably native to South America, said Joe MacGown, who curates the ant, mosquito, and scarab collections at the Mississippi State Entomological Museum at Mississippi State University.

But they were recorded in the Caribbean by the late 19th century, said Jeff Keularts, an extension associate professor at the University of the Virgin Islands. That’s how they got the nickname “Caribbean crazy ants.” They’ve also become known as Rasberry crazy ants, after the exterminator.

Now they’re making their way through parts of the Southeast. Florida had the ants in about five counties in 2000 but today is up to 20, MacGown said. Nine years after first being spotted in Texas, that state now has them in 18 counties. So far, they have been found in two counties in Mississippi and at least one Louisiana parish.

A male Nylanderia pubens (hairy, crazy ant) specimen is seen in Starkville, Mississippi, November 6, 2009. (Credit: AP/Mississippi State Entomological Museum, Joe MacGown)

Gold said some infestations have been traced to hay bales hauled from one place to another for livestock left without grass by the drought that has plagued Texas.

MacGown said he hopes their numbers are curbed in Louisiana and Mississippi before it’s too late.

Arizona pest controllers hope they don’t arrive in Arizona but they could be just a truck ride away from making it to the Grand Canyon State.

These pests favor more humid climates such as the southeast. However, bugs are bugs and they don’t follow the rules. Africanized bees come from a completely different climate and yet have been in Arizona for years.

Have you encountered any maniacal ants?

Worth Pondering…

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

—Neil Armstrong

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Comments

One Response to “Hairy, Crazy Ants Are On the Move”
  1. Patti says:

    They don’t dare invade Montana…at least in February!

    Happy tales,

    Patti

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