Skip to main content

'Crazy ants' a threat in southern U.S.

By Brad Lendon, CNN
May 19, 2013 -- Updated 1532 GMT (2332 HKT)
Researchers at the University of Texas are warning that the invasive species from South America, "tawny crazy ants." has the potential to change the ecological balance in the southeastern United States. Photos courtesy Joe A. MacGown/Mississippi Entomological Museum. Researchers at the University of Texas are warning that the invasive species from South America, "tawny crazy ants." has the potential to change the ecological balance in the southeastern United States. Photos courtesy Joe A. MacGown/Mississippi Entomological Museum.
HIDE CAPTION
'Crazy' ants take over
'Crazy' ants take over
'Crazy' ants take over
'Crazy' ants take over
'Crazy' ants take over
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Tawny crazy ants'" could change ecological balances
  • Crazy ants likely to overwhelm fire ants and "whack" them, researcher says
  • Species originated in South America
  • Crazy ants hitchhike with humans to spread

(CNN) -- Beware the "crazy ants."

Researchers at the University of Texas are warning that the invasive species from South America has the potential to change the ecological balance in the southeastern United States, largely because the ants can wipe out colonies of what's been widely considered the insect villain of the region, the fire ant.

The crazy ants, officially called "Tawny crazy ants," are omnivores that can take over an area by both killing what's there and starving out what they don't kill, said Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in the College of Natural Sciences.

"Perhaps the biggest deal is the displacement of the fire ant, which is the 300-pound gorilla in Texas ecosystems these days," LeBrun said in a press release. "The whole system has changed around fire ants. Things that can't tolerate fire ants are gone. Many that can have flourished. New things have come in. Now we are going to go through and whack the fire ants and put something in its place that has a very different biology. There are going to be a lot of changes that come from that."

Beyond the troubles they cause for the environment, the crazy ants can be a big headache for people because their populations are so dense, LeBrun said.

The crazy ants nest in walls, crawl spaces, house plants or empty containers in the yard, researchers said.

"They don't sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests," he 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 crazy ants are going so crazy, in fact, that some people want their fire ants back, LeBrun said.

"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," he said.

U.N.: Eat insects, save the world

Scientists are unsure how far the ants, which are native to Argentina and Brazil, may spread in the U.S. Since being first seen in Houston in 2002, they've been found mostly in wetter environments with mild winters in parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

And while they can quickly overwhelm a small area, the reproductive members of the species don't fly, so to move over large distances, they have to hitchhike -- in your stuff.

"If people living in or visiting invaded areas are careful and check for the crazy ants when moving or going on longer trips, they could have a huge impact on the spread," LeBrun said.

Giant tire-puncturing African land snails invade Florida

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Science news
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1210 GMT (2010 HKT)
As fans of "Grey's Anatomy," "ER" and any other hospital-based show can tell you, emergency-room doctors are fighting against time.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Ask 100 robotics scientists why they're inspired to create modern-day automatons and you may get 100 different answers.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
From the air, the Namibian desert looks like it has a bad case of chicken pox.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)
The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings.
May 25, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Consider it the taxonomist's equivalent of a People magazine's Most Beautiful List.
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 1532 GMT (2332 HKT)
For the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter the biological alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
Do we really want to go the route of "Jurassic Park"?
May 2, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Catch a train from the sky! Perhaps in the future, the high-rise superstructures could help revolutionize the way we travel.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1458 GMT (2258 HKT)
In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
February 15, 2014 -- Updated 0107 GMT (0907 HKT)
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
April 23, 2013 -- Updated 1013 GMT (1813 HKT)
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
September 4, 2013 -- Updated 1910 GMT (0310 HKT)
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.
ADVERTISEMENT