In June of 2008 I accepted an invitation to visit with a fellow entomologist and pest control operator, Tom Raspberry, in Pearland,Texas to view an infestation of ants he had been fighting in Southeast Houston since 2002. They had been dubbed Raspberry Crazy Ants. Tom first took me to an industrial street with vacant plots of land on both sides of the street. Instantly I was shocked: the entire 200 yards of concrete was moving and colored brown. Tom walked me to one side of the street to uncover sticks and stones and every one revealed a hoard of ants. We had to keep moving; standing still for only a moment would get you thousands of ants crawling up your leg. Even with the constant movement, we had to stomp our feet to knock off persistent riders.
Tom was telling me horror stories of this invasive specie. The ants seem to have an affinity for electrical connections. When they are electrocuted they give off a pheromone that brings more ants to their defense and ultimately shorts out the connection all together. The one story that stands out in my mind was that the bomb detecting equipment for containers at the Houston Ship Channel was taken out of commission by the RCA and took weeks to repair.
I returned to Katy after my visit to cry “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” but nothing happened. These ants had invaded 17 Texas counties, one in Mississippi and a parish in Louisiana. The map of their locations looks like an I-10 road map. I would go to pest control association meetings and listen to incredible stories from other operators that were in the effected areas. When asked what I was doing for the RCAs I would always say they have not been identified in Katy.
That gig is over. On May 21, 2012 I made my normal stop at Sam’s Deli at Kingsland and Pin Oak to get a cup of coffee. I looked down at my feet as I exited my car in the parking lot and saw a line of ants moving in a strange pattern. At first I thought they were Fire Ants. I felt they were strange enough that I decided to capture a specimen. When I got to my office and looked at them under the microscope I saw the key features of the Nylanderia nr. pubens or Raspberry Crazy Ant. To confirm my suspicion I took the sample to AgriLifeCenter and asked Dr. Paul Nester, Extension entomologist for Texas A&M doing research in numerous ants ofTexas, to look at my sample and he confirmed the identification.
There is an ant in Florida, Nylanderia pubens which are called Caribbean Crazy Ants that are common and controllable. The Florida ants do not have the populations that the Nylanderia nr. Pubens have. Taxonomy wise, the only difference is 4 tiny hairs on their thoracic region. Our Crazy Ant specie has been estimated at populations of 1 billion per acre. The 3 mm. ant has a bite but usually unnoticeable to humans and do not have a stinger. They do have an organ that produces an acid used in defensive and offensive maneuvers. They are easy to kill but the surviving ants walk on top of the dead ones and do not come in contact with the residual of insecticide. They are such a nuisance that all things living leave, including Fire Ants, birds and other beneficial animals. View for yourself from the report on The Texas Country Reporter episode http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgpCXGsC6PU . There are other numerous videos on YouTube showing their capacity, including my own http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qu2M-C3ngps. The video mentions the Crazy Ant as Paratrechina. The RCA are different enough from true Crazy Ants that they now have their own classifications, Nylanderia.
The pest control industry is pleading for government help in developing a control strategy for this nuisance pest. What we have done so far is not enough. The regulators have at least allowed an emergency expansion of a label for an insecticide that is helpful in killing social insects. The best we can do for a preventive effort is to make an application of a granular Fire Ant insecticide that bonds with the soil for a year: we hope that if the ants approach your property they will hide under debris then come in contact with the treated soil. Periodic sprays around the perimeter of the home will, with luck, be repellent enough to redirect their attack away from the home and kill the ones that are not sensitized. These ants are introduced on plant material. Please inspect all nursery stock you purchase to be sure it is free of any kind of ant by placing a new purchase in a quarantine area that you can identify any ant specie that’s hitched a ride.
Your life will change if you get these ants. Daily vacuuming of dead ants; your pet will refuse to go outside to do his business because if he stands still for seconds the ants will swarm their (and your) body; just try selling your house with ants everywhere. Worse than that, I worry about vital electrical equipment failures.
I ask your help to contact your legislators both state and national about the problem and ask for help to secure funding for research in the control of this invasive specie. The sky is falling, people!