Crazy Ants Hit The US Gulf Coast

Oct 8, 2011 By Anita Ramachandran
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Watch out for “crazy ants” if you are in the southern US States. There has been a buzz recently about the biting, hairy ants – most likely native to South America, which are on the move in Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Rasberry Ants

At first blush they look normal, but look more closely and something doesn’t seem right about them. Barely 1/8 th of an inch long, the curious creatures are called 'crazy' and 'hairy'. Crazy because of their speedy and erratic movements – their speeds make the average ant look like a snail, and hairy because of the short fuzz growing over the ants' abdomens. 

Nobody is sure where these ants have come from. They have been named Rasberry ants after the exterminator who discovered them in southern Texas in 2002. Entomologists (scientists who study insects) are yet to identify the species and for now are calling them Nylanderia. Their similarity to the Caribbean crazy ant is being studied.

One thing though is for sure, this is an exotic invasive species in the US. Remember the invasive lantana and shrimp? Like other invasive species, these ants too don’t need much by way of habitat. They are specialists at finding and occupying flimsy and unstable nest sites. They often locate their nests under trash and debris for a few days or weeks, and then move on. Their ability to move their nest quickly is one of the reasons they are hard to control.

How are they different from other ants?

Remember in the leaf cutter ant colony we read about here, there is only one queen ant, and she is the heart of the colony? The crazy Rasberry ants seem more prolific because they have many queens which help them multiply their ranks quickly. Their unstable habitat makes it easy for them to spread and move, which makes it difficult to contain and eradicate them.

Even the Johnson Space center has not been spared. In 2008, they had to call in a team of exterminators to keep the pests out of their sensitive and critical systems. Because of their sheer numbers, these ants can short circuit computers in homes and offices, and knock systems offline in major businesses.

Rasberry ants don’t seem to respond to normal pesticide treatment. The first wave of fallen ants are quickly followed by several behind them, walking over the dead ones and keeping themselves out of the poison and safe from harm. Smart, isn't it? It appears that the death of a rasberry ant causes a chemical to be released, which serves as a cue to the colony to launch an attack on the threat.

Usually, the best way to control any ant infestation is to eradicate the ant’s nest. Treatment with insecticides seems to trigger these ants to move or split their nest into two or more colonies. Texas has temporarily approved two chemicals (fairly toxic) in its effort to control the ants. Other states are looking at ways to curb their spread.

Have you noticed invasive species in your neighborhood? Are there any ways you would suggest to keep them out? Do you think invasive species are a threat to local habitat?