Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have been studying a type of ant that has been invading the southeastern United States. These ants, which originate from northern Argentina and southern Brazil, are pushing out native ant species.
The invasion is so severe, it is either reducing other ant populations or eliminating them completely.
Referred to as "crazy ants", these ants are so invasive, they are even pushing out the prominent fire ants that traditionally have dominated the region in the last several decades since their own arrival in the 1930s.
In fact, these "crazy ants" are coming in such numbers people are even wishing for the fire ants to come back, said researchers.
“When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back,” said Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in the College of Natural Sciences, in a news release. “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.”
Not these new arrivals. The formal scientific name for these ants are Nylanderia fulva. They are also called "Rasberry crazy ants" and “Tawny crazy ants".
These invasive ants do not set up house and keep to themselves. Reportedly, these ants invade homes and get into many human spaces; they can even cause electrical disruption when nests are set up in between walls or in other areas where equipment is located.
Moving north from the southern hemisphere, concerns are this most recent ant invasion will also upset the local ecosystem, having a "dramatic effect".
The most prominent "crazy ant" populations in the U.S. are currently found in Texas and Florida. A handful of other states in the southeast are also seeing them.
Additionally, they are not easy to control even through pest management techniques. There are some ways experts can control them, but it is not a one-time solution.
“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.”
The scientists do say, however, that people can do their part in trying to curb the spread of these crazy ants. The ants cannot fly to reach other areas, so travel would be slow. However, people can accidentally transport these ants since they'll nest anywhere. The researchers recommend people pay mind to this factor, this way the ants can be kept limited in range.
It is not clear if Nylanderia fulva ants can survive outside of damp and warm climates, so it may be they do stick close to the southeast. However, if they can tolerate colder and drier climates, there is the possibility the ants may begin to migrate north.
The study, published by LeBrun and colleagues has been published in Biological Invasions.