Fire ants have been invading the American South for years. Originally introduced through an accidental importation from a docked cargo ship in Alabama, these venomous ants have spread throughout the southern part of the U.S. from Florida to California. However, a type of ants called tawny crazy ants may be fighting back against the fire ants’ invasion.
Fire ants generally nest on the ground, preferring damp soil with nearby water. They will burrow deeper during hot, dry weather in order to take advantage of the cooler ground temperatures. They aggressively invade an area, swarming over anyone or anything that disturbs their mound. They are omnivores who attack, kill, and consume indiscriminately. While they are able to cut and “chew” with their mouths, they must reduce their food and prey to a liquefied form in order to process the nutrients.
Fire ants sting their prey and inject a toxin which causes a painful, burning, fire-like sensation in their victims. People who are allergic to the toxin may go into anaphylactic shock and could die. While the stings themselves are painful, the resultant bumps continue to cause pain and irritation and may last a number of days.
Fire ants aggressively inundate areas and tend to decimate other native ants and insects. They have also been known to attack small or baby animals, pets, and nesting birds. They have been the scourge of many places, including Texas, for many years.
Because Texans have had such difficulty with fire ants, it seems like the new arrival of crazy ants might be cause for celebration. Crazy ants have the ability to survive the stings of fire ants and compete with them for food. They are called crazy ants due to their fast and seemingly crazy movements. They colonize in extraordinarily large numbers.
Crazy ants have been confused with a seemingly less-invasive ant species currently inhabiting Florida. Unfortunately for all, the jury still seems to be out as to whether the Texan crazy ant is the same as the Floridian crazy ant. The ants in Florida are identified as Nylanderia pubens, but it appears that the Texas crazy ant has been classified as Nylanderia fulva. There seems to be great and angry dissension among individuals as to whether these ants are the same. Regardless of classification, the ant itself is at best a nuisance species, and at worst, an invasive, irritatingly difficult-to-control, problematic infestation.
The Florida ant has been around for so long that the U.S.D.A.’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service considers the invasive ant too widespread for any effective treatment. Treatments and exterminations are still attempted, if only to keep the ants from completely taking over.
The tawny crazy ant colonizes in such large quantities that they not only create a nuisance for people venturing outside, they often cause structural damage, electronics destruction, and hazardous conditions for animals. The ant populations are so massive that they force native animals and birds to relocate, they destroy plants, and they can irritate and overtake larger animals such as chickens and even cattle.
So, while the tawny crazy ant can effectively survive fire ant attacks and compete with them for food sources, the cure might well be worse than the problem. Texans are currently trading fire ant populations in some areas with crazy ant populations. Crazy ants, unlike the fire ants, have no qualms about taking up residence indoors. They will often choose vehicles, electrical boxes, and even television sets to make their homes. They die in massive quantities, creating mounds of tiny ant carcasses. They crawl quickly and erratically over anything and everything in their path. They are, in fact, more than a nuisance. They are bad. Crazy bad.
By Dee Mueller
Texas A&M University