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Fuzzy Death: The South Is Being Overtaken By Hairy Crazy Ants

Droughts. Hurricanes. Rick Perry. And now, ants. Or, should I say, “hairy crazy ants.” Several southern states are apparently "being overrun": by...

by Brian Anderson
Oct 5 2011, 4:18pm

Droughts. Hurricanes. Rick Perry. And now, ants. Or, should I say, "hairy crazy ants."

Several southern states are apparently being overrun by legions of these 2-mm-long, reddish-brown bastards, which get their ultra-technical name from their wild, circular scrambling and slight outer fuzz.

Twenty counties in Florida, 18 in Texas, two in Mississippi and one in Louisiana are reporting issues with hairy crazies, known colloquially as 'Rasberry' crazy ants. They're coming northward from South America in an extreme territory expansion, first inadvertently transported, it's believed, on U.S.-bound boats out of the Caribbean. Prior to 2000 there were isolated reports of the pests in Florida, and in 2002 exterminators in Texas happened upon the first specimens in and around Houston. But over the past decade populations – potentially identical to Nylanderia pubens, the Caribbean crazy ant – have swelled considerably.

Where is E.O. Wilson when we need him most?

Roger Gold, an entomologist with Texas A&M, tells the AP that the ants are belligerent, poised to swarm en masse at a moment's notice. The second a single ant goes down, Gold says, "its death releases a chemical clue to attack a threat to the colony." So others come rushing in: "Before long, you have a ball of ants."

Swarm porn
Feast of the hairy crazies

Hairy crazy ants are like the Tusken Raiders of the myrmecological realm, eating nearly anything, plant or animal, in their path. They don't nest in hills, but instead take to sheltered, moist areas – "inconvenient places," Audubon Nature Institute – New Orleans spokesman Zack Lemann tells the Daily Mail. They reproduce at freakish clips, as individual colonies may support multiple queens. Thriving in both rural and urban environments, they hitch rides on motorcycles, moving vans, potted plants, bales of hay, whatever.

They will gnaw (and cover) you and that dog of yours and will overwhelm other area ant populations, forcing them out or straight killing them wholesale. Oh, they also don't really react to pest control measures that deplete other ant species. Assholes. Says Gold: For every 100,000 hairy crazies knocked out with pesticides, "millions more will follow."

Industrial equipment is fair game, too. In fact, like a lot of ant species, Rasberry crazies are mysteriously drawn to electrical components. It could be they pick up magnetic fields surrounding live wires, or maybe that they're attracted to heat radiating from wire resistance. Either way, says Louisiana State University entomologist Dennis Ring, they can short out electrical boxes and damage computers and televisions.

By no means is this at all comparable to some of the gnarlier, more biblical swarms in history. But what's disconcerting here is how these ants can transfer pathogens – and that they're turning up in Houston-area medical facilities.

The big take-away, in other words, is there's definitely something to be said for a good, hard freeze.

ODDITY examines strange and esoteric phenomena and events from the remote, uncanny corners of technology, science and history.


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Top image: Mississippi State Entomological Museum / AP
ants being ants
hairy crazy ants