May 19, 2013
Attack Of The Crazy Ants: Invasive Species Spreading Throughout US Gulf Coast
[ Watch the Video: Rise of the Crazy Ants ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe OnlineResidents of the Gulf Coast are in the midst of an invasion - an ant invasion. An invasive and ecologically dominant species of ant is reportedly displacing the native fire ant in areas throughout the southeastern US.
The invasive species originates from South America and is known as Nylanderia fulva, or tawny crazy ants, according to Geoffrey Mohan of the Los Angeles Times. Normally found in northern Argentina and southern Brazil, they were first discovered in the US near Houston, Texas by a pest control worker in 2002.
Since then, they have spread throughout the state (currently they have been reported in 21 counties) and the entire Gulf Coast region, Ed LeBrun, a researcher at the University of Texas´ invasive species research program, told Mohan. They have been found as far as Florida, and LeBrun said that he believed the species found its way to American through the ports of New Orleans, much like the Argentine ant did in 1891.
“When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back,” LeBrun, who along with his colleagues has detailed the crazy ant invasion in the journal Biological Invasions, said in a statement. Unlike fire ants, which are “in many ways very polite” and “only interact with you if you step on their mound,” the new crazy ants “go everywhere” — invading people´s homes, nesting within walls and crawl spaces, and even damaging electrical equipment.
Plus, the UT researcher said that the crazy ants are much harder to control than fire ants, as they do not share the colonial boundaries that their native counterparts do and will not consume most poison baits used to wipe out fire and mounts. In South America, they are believed to be kept in check by other types of ants and other natural enemies, but in the US there are no such controls for the invasive species.
“They don't sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests,” LeBrun explained. “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.”
In the US, crazy ants can attain densities of up to 100 times greater than all other ants in a region combined. As a result, they begin monopolizing food sources, starving other species — and on occasion the omnivorous ants will simply attack and kill other ants and arthropods for food, he noted. The overall result, the researchers explain, is a significant reduction in biodiversity that could ultimately impact the entire ecosystem of the region.
“Perhaps the biggest deal is the displacement of the fire ant, which is the 300 pound gorilla in Texas ecosystems these days,” LeBrun said. “The whole system has changed around fire ants. Things that can't tolerate fire ants are gone. Many that can have flourished“¦ Now we are going to go through and whack the fire ants and put something in its place that has a very different biology. There are going to be a lot of changes that come from that.”