'Alien' Invaders: Crazy Ants Swarm Into Southern U.S.

A swarm of foreign "crazy ants" is driving residents of the U.S. Gulf Coast, well, crazy.

The ants may be making residents wish they'd still only have to deal with pesky fire ants. Both prey on electrical equipment. But unlike fire ants, crazy ants form mega-colonies and force out local ant populations.

"When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back," Ed LeBrun, a researcher at the University of Texas' invasive species research program, said. "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."

Crazy ants, or Nylanderia fulva, are native to southern Brazil and northern Argentina. A pest control worker discovered them in a Houston suburb in 2002. But since then, populations of the crazy ants have spread throughout Texas and the Gulf Coast area as far as Florida. LeBrun believes that the ants arrived through the Port of New Orleans, which is where the Argentine arrived in 1891.

The dominance of the crazy ants has been a troublesome development for researchers, who claim that the ants have extinguished five other local ant species' populations. Even in other areas, ant populations have been found to be in decline. Destroyed crazy ant mounds regenerate quickly, and the ants seem immune to traditional poisons. The problem is compounded by the fact that the southern colonies have no natural predators, allowing them to grow to 100 times the size of other local colonies. The crazy ants also have no hesitation attacking local colonies directly.

"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."

Exactly how far the crazy ants can spread and what impact they will have on the local ecosystem remains unknown, but since the ants don't fly, their spread should be slower than other species. Unless they hitch a ride, of course.

The research is published in the journal Biological Invasions.

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