Summer in the South may be a little crazy this year thanks to a South American species known as “crazy ants.” Swarms of the tiny unpredictable insects threaten the local ecosystems, electrical wiring and circuits, CBS News reports.
First spotted in 2002, the Nylanderia fulva are deemed “crazy” due to their unpredictable movements and swarming populations. They have invaded 50 counties across Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, and have reportedly cost $146.5 million in electrical damage each year, USA Today reports. The ants see electrical circuits as a heat source.
"You can stick your hand on the ground and they'll swarm all over and you'll look like a zombie," Bill Leake from Austin, Texas, told CBS News about the swarms found on his 10-acre property.
The species is indigenous to northern Argentina and southern Brazil. Scientists say they came to the U.S. inadvertently from people who have traveled to South America. In the U.S. they are called "Rasberry crazy ants" named after a Houston pest control operator who first saw the tiny insects and noticed their exponential growth.
At first, "it was just something that looked a little different," Tom Rasberry told CBS News. "The following year the numbers built from a few thousand to hundreds of millions." Rasberry estimates the ants kill 90 to 95 percent of reptiles and birds in the ecosystems they populate.
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So far no permanent solution has been found to eradicate the invasive ants. Repeat pesticide sprays are costly, and the ants return from untreated neighboring properties, USA Today reports.
Marc Perton at gdgt.com warns readers to avoid leaving electronics like laptops, cell phones and tablets outside in infested areas. Buying airtight cases or wrapping the devices in shrink wrap could also protect them from the pesky insects.
For those unsure if they have an infestation, insect experts say the ants’ movement is key. "If they've infested your yard, you can look on the ground and see movement everywhere," Joe Macgown, Mississippi State University entomological research technician, told the Sun Herald. "You wouldn't even be able to put your hand on a patio without it being covered with ants."