Forget red ants; Crazy ants are invading!
Hurricanes, severe temperatures and droughts have plagued Florida.
While these conditions come and go, imported red fire ants have been a constant bane of Floridians and other southerns for decades.
It appears likely that fire ants may soon be history, replaced by another infestation of South American ants that are more troublesome than fire ants.
These new ants, first discovered in Texas in 2002, love air conditioners and other electric devices and caused $150 million in damage to electrical equipment in the Lone Star State in one year.
These pests overwhelm and drive out red fire ants. Unlike fire ants, which are easily controlled with poison baits, there’s no easy way to kill these tiny ants. They don't consume most of the poison baits that kill fire ant mounds. Pesticides have been used on the new pests, but they could not be eradicated because they have multiple queens and unless all the queens are killed the mound is quickly regenerated.
Crazy ants are in 25 counties in Florida and 24 in Texas
The reddish-brown ants are known by various names: crazy ants, hairy ants and raspberry ants. They are native to northern Argentina and southern Brazil and have taken up residence in major portions of Texas and Florida and have spread to portions of Louisiana and Mississippi.
They thrive in wet areas:
The ants thrive in areas with a wet environment and mild winters. The crazy ants were first discovered a decade ago in Houston and researchers say they’ve spread to southern coastal areas from Houston, Texas east and south to Florida. Crazy ants are in 24 Texas counties.
They first invaded Florida in 2002 and took up residence in about five counties. Today, they’re in 25 counties, mostly along the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf. (Researchers suspect infestations have expanded beyond the areas noted above.)
They establish mega-colonies — both outside, in vegetation, and in homes, behind wallboards.
Their biological name is Nylanderia fulva. These ants are one-eighth of an inch long. That’s smaller than the diameter of a normal pencil, which is about ¼ inch. These ants are so tiny that millions can hide beneath a rock. They get the "crazy" moniker because of the unpredictable, erratic way they move. They appear to be inebriated or crazy.
Colonies have 8 to 40 queens:
Crazy ants live in large colonies. Infestations contain 8 to 40 queens, according to Orkin.com. There are also thousands of workers and a massive brood of eggs and larvae. The workers “have long legs and antennae and their bodies have numerous, long, coarse macrosetae (or hairs). Males are approximately the same size and color as workers. Queens are much larger than workers and notably darker brown in color,” according to a 2012 Texas A&M University study.
“The size of the infestations can be large,” the report says. In Texas they have “infesting entire subdivisions, industrial sites (and) agricultural operations.”
“Nylanderia fulva, has been a serious pest in South America,” says the Texas A&M report. The crazy ants “have caused chickens to die of asphyxia due to the ants obstructing nasal passages. Larger animals, such as cattle, have been observed with large numbers of these ants around the eyes, nasal area and hooves,” report Texas A&M researchers.
Crazy ants eat both dead and live insects, fruits, seeds, plant secretions, and a variety of household food items such as meats, sweets, grease and liquids.
Electrical equipment is targeted by crazy ants
Many types of ants are attracted to electrical equipment, perhaps for the heat the system generates.
When a crazy ant stumbles into a live electrical component and as it is electrocuted the ant instinctively waves his body in the air releasing alarm pheromones, which lures other members of the ant colony.
These ants respond to the location ready to defend their nest, only to die as 110 volts shoots through their bodies. They in turn release more pheromones and lure more ants. The thousands of dead ants soon short out the electric circuits.
Even NASA had to deal with this new pest. The electrical wiring at NASA’s facilities in Houston was one of the areas infected by the crazy ants.
But they don’t target tablets, iPhone and similar devices.
"There has been some exaggeration of the dangers," University of Texas spokesperson Daniel Oppenheimer told TechNewsWorld. "We're not sure how it got into the news — that the ants go after phones and computers," he said. "That certainly didn't come from our research."
People in crazy ant areas "want their fire ants back"
Crazy ants don’t sting, but are capable of biting. Fire ants are known for their painful stings and have been an expensive pest. More than $5 billion is spent annually in controlling fire ants and on medical treatment to individuals bitten by the red insect. These pests cost an additional $750 million in agricultural damage, according to Smithsonian magazine.
People and the ecological system have come to cope and adapt to fire ants since their arrival in the U.S. in the 1930s. "Fire ants are in many ways are very polite,” said Edward LeBrun, a University of Texas researcher, according to the Monitor.
“They live in your yard. They form mounds and stay there and they only interact with you if you step on their mound." Crazy ants are more pervasive and go everywhere. "When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back," said LeBrun.
Crazy ants nest in walls, crawl spaces, house plants or empty containers in the yard. Some Texans have found them in their bathrooms and collected dustpans full of them.
The only way to gain some control over them is to have pest control professionals spray every three or four months. This has been very expensive for many homeowners.
To crazy ant-proof your property, homeowners should remove potential nesting sites, such as leaf litter and fallen wood from around structures. You should also reduce irrigation and get rid of standing water, because crazy ants prefer moist habitats.
A great deal about the crazy ants remains unknown, including their potential range. Crazy ants don't spread as quickly as fire ants, advancing only 650 feet per year when not hitching a ride on human belongings.
Potted plants infected at nurseries appears to be one method crazy ants have employed to expand their territory. You need to be aware of this and inspect any plants you plan to purchase before you inadvertently bring these pests home with you.
“No single pesticide or cultural practice has proved to be adequate for their control,” says the Texas A&M report. The A&M researchers are working on identifying a pesticide that will interrupt the lifecycle of the ants by adversely affecting egg production and laying. But that solution may take years to develop.
“Further research is needed in the area of basic biology, behavior, and integrated pest management in order for a satisfactory solution to be determined,” the A&M report concludes. – TDowling