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Crazy ants: Invasive species of ant could complicate East Texans' lives

By Glenn Evans
June 11, 2013 at 10 p.m.


The hated fire ant might have to move over as Texas' most detested invader now that crazy ants have arrived on the Gulf Coast.

They don't sting or attack like their mound-building cousins, but crazy ants bring their own mayhem. They're like the out-of-work brother-in-law who moves in, won't move out and keeps breaking expensive things.

"They're a force to be reckoned with," said Paul Nester, extension program specialist in Harris County, where the invasive species was spotted in 2002.

Colonies of crazy ants are reported along the Gulf Coast to Florida, including 24 Texas counties. Most of those are along the coast, though the species appears to have caught a ride north to San Antonio. The nearest counties to Gregg that have reported arrivals of Nylanderia fulva, the ant's scientific name, are Polk and Walker counties.

But the crazy ant's busy season has arrived.

"They start building in late June, July," Nester said. "And we're not talking a few 100,000 ants or a few million. We're talking about millions and millions of them. ... Because of the sheer numbers of them, some of the pesticides don't do well."

Crazy ants, also called Rasberry ants after the Pearland exterminator who discovered them in the Houston Ship Yard, get their zany name from seemingly random paths they follow. Crazy ants don't walk in the ordered lines common to their fellow tramp ants.

But, there is a method to their crazy.

"They tend to encourage the other species in the area to not be in the area," Nester said. "This species, because of sheer numbers, will tend to displace other ant species."

That includes the noxious fire ant, whose bite can trigger a fatally allergic reaction in some people. But Nester warns people not to start any crazy ant farms in their yards. The newcomers won't stay there.

"Anything that might have some type of circuit" attracts them, Nester said, noting the ants' talent for shorting out electrical systems and killing air conditioners. "In Colombia, this specific species has caused lots of havoc with poultry houses. They can be a problem with agriculture."

The crazy ant also has displaced honeybees from hives in Fannin County, he added.

It's anyone's guess how far north the tropical invaders will reach. And East Texas is not out of the woods - the critters like moisture and shade.

"Harris County is kind of the epicenter of that, and now they are moving out from there," Nester said. "You see them in every Gulf Coast area, which is nice and moist. ... They like subtropical conditions like we have."

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