Crazy ants on the move to East Texas - FOX Carolina 21

Crazy ants on the move to East Texas

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Crazy ants on a step in Houston (Source: Raycom Media) Crazy ants on a step in Houston (Source: Raycom Media)
TYLER, TX (KLTV) - They are hairy, brown, and headed our way, and exterminators have been warning us about them for years. They are crazy ants. Though small, the tiny insects are causing big damage to homes and livestock in Texas.

Rasberry Crazy ants were first spotted near Houston in 2002, having been brought over on a ship from South America. They are quickly moving up the southeast part of the state, heading right for East Texas. It sounds crazy in itself, that an ant can do damage, but these are an especially aggressive species. These ants can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home, business, or belongings and the worst part is, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

“These ants are real bad about getting into electronic circuit boards,” Tom Rasberry, the man who discovered the crazy ants in 2002, said.

Crazy ants won’t physically hurt humans, but Rasberry said it’s what they’ll cost you that will sting.

“We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds and billions of dollars,” he said.

The ants are attracted to electric units, like air conditioning and heating. Chris Worthen with A&M Refrigeration said he’s seen that already happen during the summer months in parts of East Texas.

“And once they get in there, they will actually fry themselves,” Worthen said.

But they’ll keep coming, stacking on top of each other, he said, until they’ve coated the wires. The electricity will fry the ants and kill them. This will continue until they mound atop the wires and ruin the equipment. They’ll cause shorts and can ruin whole units, costing owners hundreds, even thousands of dollars to repair.

“Depending on the severity and what actually happens to the unit and how long a homeowner lets it go,” Worthen explained.

A mound of dirt covered a step on a residence near Houston. On closer look, however, that mound of dirt was wriggling around. It was not dirt at all, but millions and millions of crazy ants. It’s that high population size that sets the Rasberry Crazy Ant, also known as the Tawny Crazy Ant, apart from other ant species.

“Crazy ants have these incredibly high populations, and so as a nuisance pest, they are pretty amazing,” Dr. Blake Bextine, a biology professor at UT Tyler, said.

“If and when we get crazy ants, the biggest problem is going to be re-population of the ants from year to year,” Dr. Bextine said.

The ants are spreading quickly. In 2009 they covered 14 counties in the Southern portion of Texas. By 2013 that number had nearly doubled to 27 counties spanning South and parts of Southeast Texas. Experts project they could get to Northern East Texas within the next couple years.

“They don’t fly like fire ants, so there’s no threat of them moving in large numbers into this area,” Dr. Bextine said.

The problem isn’t them moving, it’s us. Crazy ants can spread just by hitching a ride. Moving garbage, plants, or bales of hay are their perfect modes of transportation. But, simply driving through an area with crazy ants could invite the unwanted passenger. The ants will come home with you by hopping on your car, an airplane, or even your clothing! That is how they spread and fast.

The best solution to combat the crazy ants is to treat them, but don’t go reaching for your bug spray, as it’s nearly powerless against this species.

“One of the problems with insecticide treatment is you lay a band of spray on the ground and so many ants will die that the other ants will be able to crawl over them and not be able to come in contact with the insecticide,” Dr. Bextine said.

One exterminator in South Texas said he used Termidor, a termite treatment, to rid homes of Rasberry Crazy Ants. Some counties don’t allow the use of those chemicals, but several in East Texas, including Smith County, said they do allow the use of Termidor in emergency situations. East Texas extension agents are aware of the species, but those we spoke with do not currently have guidelines or plans in place to deal with crazy ants.

“If you identify that you do have a problem with crazy ants and they’ve been properly identified by a professional, then the best thing you can do is contact a certified pest control operator,” Dr. Bextine said.

Experts urge not to kill every ant you see fearing they are crazy ants, because other species are necessary and harmless. Here’s how to know if you’ve got them. Crazy ants are reddish brown in color. They’re about 1/8 of an inch long, that’s just a bit smaller than most species. They’re hairy.

“If you look very, very closely at them, they’re very hairy and that separates them from a lot of other ant species that we have in this part of Texas,” Dr. Bextine said.

So, it may all sound a little crazy, but although the treatment of crazy ants can be costly, the damage they can do can be even more expensive.

The other issue is that because these ants come in the millions, one exterminator said if one neighbor is treating for crazy ants, but all the others around them are not, it’s not going to do much. The crazy ant problem is one that is best combated by early, consistent treatment.

They have also been known to displace other ant species in South America and kill off some insects. The biggest concern is for livestock and other farm animals. In extreme cases they have even caused livestock to die from asphyxia. In larger animals, like cows and horses, they have attacked their eyes and hooves. Experts said research on economic impact is still under way, but those are some of the issues seen in some areas.

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