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Crazy ants started out in Texas in 2002 but are now in at least five states–including Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia–, and are “within four miles of Alabama right now,” says research scientist Joe MacGown.
The exotic invasive pest ant species “tawny crazy ant” (formerly known as Rasberry crazy ant) has been causing some serious problems as the ants are extremely difficult to get rid of, and can elude traditional extermination solutions.
Researchers in Texas found earlier this year that the crazy ants are displacing fire ants in areas across the southeastern U.S. The spread of the species has mainly come from humans inadvertently transporting them to new areas, mostly vehicles transporting landscaping and building materials.
People in areas where crazy ants are invading are not pleased.
“When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back,” said Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the The University of Texas at Austin, in the study announcement. “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.”
LeBrun said that crazy ants, by contrast, “go everywhere.” They invade people’s homes, nest in crawl spaces and walls, become incredibly abundant and damage electrical equipment.
The species was identified last year as being native to northern Argentina and southern Brazil. It has recently spread to Georgia, and has also been found in Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi.
The crazy ants are also much harder to control than fire ants. They don’t consume most poison baits that the fire ants do, and they don’t have the same kind of colony boundaries.
“They don’t sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests,” LeBrun said. “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.”
Traditional extermination chemicals don’t seem to work, Joe Stuckey, a Houston environmental attorney, told Reuters.
“You can spray and it will kill tens of thousands, but they come back,” he said. “If you took a restaurant-sized pepper jug and poured it on the floor, that’s how thick they are.”
“This year’s been the worst ever,” he added.
Texas A & M has several projects in the works to study the ants. Estimates of the costs of damages from the species are in the hundreds of millions for the decade or so it has been in the U.S.
One piece of advice for keeping the ants away is frequently and regularly removing trash and yard debris.