Crazy Ants, Discovered in Houston a Decade Ago, Are Swarming Toward Dallas

First, the good news: Crazy ants don't sting. They do sometimes bite, but the pain is mild, and it fades quickly. Even better, they drive out their stinging cousins, fire ants, which have been tormenting Texans for decades. Now, the bad news: When entomologists say "crazy," they mean it.

"When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back," Ed LeBrun, an invasive species researcher at the University of Texas, told the Los Angeles Times. "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 on the other hand? They swarm madly over anything and everything, whether it's outside your home or not. With no natural predators, their colonies grow to 100 times the size of those of the typical ant colony. Homeowners have been known to sweep them out of houses with a broom. Also, crazy ants have developed an expensive taste for electronics. Computer mice are one example, but also transformers and electrical switches, where the carcasses of large numbers of shocked ants can cause short circuits and clog switching mechanisms.

This particular species of arthropod was first spotted in the United States in 2002, in an industrial park about four miles south of the Port of Houston, where the arthropods very well may have disembarked after a trip from their native South America. Three years later, they swarmed a neighborhood a couple of miles to the north and have been on the march ever since, spreading to five Gulf Coast states and nearly two dozen counties in Texas.

Last week, LeBrun published a paper in the journal Biological Invasions that examines the spread of crazy ants and their ecological impact. Turns out, their dominance over fire ants isn't such a good thing. In all of the places they've been spotted, they've either completely eliminated or are in the process of eliminating five other insect species. Not only is that bad for biodiversity, it allows their populations to swell to insane sizes.

Crazy ants have not yet arrived in North Texas, but it's hard to believe they won't. Just last year, they showed up near Austin, and their reach has extended steadily over the past eight years. Texas A&M's agricultural extension service says their northward progress will eventually be checked by an aversion to cold weather, Dallas and Austin aren't too far apart, climate-wise.

In other words, be afraid. Be very afraid.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson