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‘Rasberry Crazy Ant’ Finally Gets Scientific Name and Recognition

September 21, 2012
Image Caption: Nylanderia pubens worker. Credit: Gotzek D, Brady SG, Kallal RJ, LaPolla JS (2012) The Importance of Using Multiple Approaches for Identifying Emerging Invasive Species: The Case of the Rasberry Crazy Ant in the United States. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45314. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045314

Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Ten years is a long time to not have a name. The ℠Rasberry Crazy Ant´, so called for their propensity to swarm in seemingly random, quick moving circles, was first noticed in the South Texas area over a decade ago by Tom Rasberry, a local exterminator who took an immediate interest in this rarely-before-seen invader.

Rasberry knew very early on through his attempts to eradicate entire colonies that the infestation would soon reach epic proportions. The first year he encountered this insect their colonies numbered merely in the thousands, but only a year later he found them numbering in the millions. Though he tried to raise the alarm in the first days, his calls went unheeded. The infestation has now spread to include every state along the Gulf Coast.

The total ecological effect of these insects is only just being understood. From decimation of bee colonies and ground and low-tree nesting species of birds to destruction of electrical systems, the Nylanderia fulva, the species name assigned to the Rasberry Crazy Ant today, has proven a fearsome foe for the region.

The genus of these insects was determined very early on, as the insect resembled strongly the Nylanderia pudens, or the ℠Caribbean Crazy Ant´, a species common in South America and the Caribbean. It is assumed this ant came in through the seventh busiest seaport in the United States, the Port of Houston, and from there began its remarkable march through the southeast region.

In a study released today, authors Dietrich Gotzek, Seán G. Brady, Robert J. Kallal and John S. LaPolla extoled “the invaluable role taxonomy, an often underappreciated discipline, plays in our understanding of emerging pests.” The process was tricky, LaPolla stated, because two similar species, N. fulva and N. pudens, have nearly identical worker ants. To differentiate between the two, the scientists had to focus on the male ants’ genitals.

“Sort of a running joke among entomologists who do taxonomy is that we spend a lot of time looking at the naughty bits of insects,” LaPolla said. “And the reason for that is because there are often some distinct features that help separate the species.”

The team contends that it is only through complete identification that strategies can be planned and implemented to combat an infestation by a hostile invader. Today´s study, published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Identifying this species on your own property or business is relatively easy. Each of the ℠worker´ variety of ant is approximately 1/8-inch long, and they typically travel, not in a uniform line like most ants, but rather in a wild and random pattern. Additionally, the shear number of ants in the swarm should be a clear indicator of their presence.

The Rasberry Crazy Ant´ does not have a stinger. In place of a stinger, worker ants possess an acidopore on the end of the abdomen, which can excrete chemicals for defense or attack. They are capable of biting, and when bitten, they cause a relatively intense pain that quickly fades. While posing minimal biological risk to humans, they can be dangerous for many small animals and even larger animals such as cows. In South America, the cousin to the ℠Rasberry Crazy Ant´ has been responsible for the asphyxiation of chickens by clogging their nasal cavities. Cows are at risk at vulnerable points such as the eyes, nose and even hooves.

Until only recently, Tom Rasberry voiced discouragement that the infestation was receiving no state or federal funding to perform the research necessary to understand this insect. In fact, all research performed prior to this study had been funded by private industry, Texas A&M University and Tom Rasberry himself.

In sounding the alarm, Rasberry brought some much needed publicity to this burgeoning scourge. Appearing on both a state-wide broadcast within Texas as well as a nationally broadcast episode of CBSs The Early Show, Rasberry was busy trying to shed light on not only the current situation, but also on future implications should nothing be done.

In addition to ecological damage, where the ants are destroying up to 95% of reptile and insect populations they encounter as well as displacing birds and destroying bee colonies, Rasberry has cited public health concerns, saying that “they’ve just proven at Texas A&M University, that [these ants] actually transfer pathogens from one room to another and we’re already finding them in the Medical Center in Houston. So, that’s problematic.”

Another target of the ℠Rasberry Crazy Ant´ is common and not-so-common electrical systems. Kwame Opam, writing for Gizmodo stated, “the worst part is the damage they cause to electronics and equipment. They seem to love nesting in and eating computers by the thousands. And they’re resistant to extermination efforts because colonies are so large and they rebound so quickly–often in a matter of hours. They even take out fire ants…which might be seen as a good thing for some people, but still.”

NASA´s Johnson Space Center, as well as both of the major airports servicing the Houston area, and many other companies and organizations have sought out Rasberry, who has become the unofficial expert on this species, to help to eradicate colonies at their facilities.

While Rasberry appears somewhat pessimistic that we could ever completely control or contain the ant that bears his name, he is encouraged that the insect has now been properly identified and classified. He hopes agencies like the USDA, will put additional funding towards the creation and testing of pesticides that will help professionals, such as himself, to keep the Nylanderia fulva at bay.

There are currently no pesticides available for home use that have any lasting effect against a Rasberry Crazy Ant infestion. If you suspect that you may have infestation, you are encouraged to contact a professional exterminator.


Source: Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online



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