People living in the southeastern United States might have to brace themselves for a “crazy" ant invasion.
According to researchers at the University of Texas, an invasive species native to South America has been threatening biological diversity, which can have lasting consequences on the ecosystem, Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in the College of Natural Sciences, said in a statement.
“Perhaps the biggest deal is the displacement of the fire ant, which is the 300 pound gorilla in Texas ecosystems these days,” LeBrun said pointing to how the fire ant population has dropped from the “crazy” ants invasion.
“Things that can’t tolerate fire ants are gone. Many that can have flourished. New things have come in. Now we are going to go through and whack the fire ants and put something in its place that has a very different biology. There are going to be a lot of changes that come from that,” he added.
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Officially known as “Tawny crazy ants,” the ants came from their native northern Argentina and southern Brazil to the U.S. inadvertently from people who have traveled to South America. First discovered in 2002, the species have been spotted in 21 counties in Texas, 20 counties in Florida, and a few sites in southern Mississippi and southern Louisiana.
The “crazy ants” were given their nickname from their unpredictable movements. They “go everywhere,” Lebrun describes, invading homes, crawl spaces and have damaged millions of dollars’ worth of electrical equipment.
“When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back,” LeBrun said. “Fire ants are in many ways very polite. They live in your yard. They form mounds and stay there, and they only interact with you if you step on their mound.”
Unlike fire ants, Tawny crazy ants are hard to control. They aren’t threatened by poison baits and they don’t have the same kind of colony boundaries like fire ants have. If they are killed in one area, the supercolony can survive and reinvade the same area, LeBrun explains.
“They don’t sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests,” he told CNN. “There are videos on YouTube of people sweeping out dustpans full of these ants from their bathroom. You have to call pest control operators every three or four months just to keep the infestation under control. It’s very expensive.”
While no permanent solution to the growing ant problem has been found, LeBrun warns people to be on the lookout for crazy ants in their homes.
“They are opportunistic nesters,” LeBrun said. “They can take up residence in everything from a house plant, to an empty container left outside, to an RV. So they’re easily transported by us. But the flip side of that is that if people living in or visiting invaded areas are careful and check for the crazy ants when moving or going on longer trips, they could have a huge impact on the spread.”