The idea of ants causing an epidemic may seem like a ludicrous idea for some people. But for others across the Gulf Coast of the US, an ant species is literally causing chaos. A species called Nylanderia Fulva, also know as the Tawny Crazy ant, Hairy Crazy ant or Raspberry Crazy ant has launched an invasion that has left people in at least four states around the Gulf of Mexico riled up.
The ants, which were discovered in Houston, Texas in 2002, are problematic because of the peculiar eating habits they exhibit. The omnivorous insect, which measures less than one-eighth of an inch, has been eating everything that comes its way. While other creatures are definitely on the menu, the real issue lies in the fact that they don’t mind chomping on computer wires either. While the Crazy ants don’t cause much damage individually, millions have been found hiding under rocks or inside computers, eating everything that they can find.
The ant’s presence has now been reported by ABC News across at least 21 counties in Texas as well as 20 counties in Florida. What’s ironic here is that one of the main forms of transportations that these ants make use of involve hiding in human clothing, bags and cars. The unwitting hosts then help move these pests across the nation. There seems to be no limit to the habitats they can live in – with homes, RVs, computers, laptops, smartphones being some of the venues.
Nylanderia fulva, also know as the Tawny Crazy ant, is causing chaos across the US due to its unusual eating habits (photo credit: ABCNews)
These acts of agression extend to their own kind as well. The Crazy ants have a major hand in displacing Fire ants across the south-eastern part of the country, according to Edward LeBrun of the University of Texas, Austin. He has also said that the Crazy ants have cut down the diversity and numbers of other ant and arthropod species found in that area.
LeBrun’s studies show a clear comparison between the Crazy and Fire ants. “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. Crazy ants have no such limitation and are found everywhere.
The biggest reason why the Crazy ants are spreading without pause is the lack of natural predators and other aggressive ant species to keep them in check. In the US, the native ant species are not as aggressive, adding to the exponential rise in the number of Crazy ants.
The usual method of placing poison outside an ant colony does not work here either. While normal ants consume the poison after being baited out, which is then spread throughout the colony, the lack of a proper boundary in the case of Crazy ants prevents an effective strategy from being laid out. Even if the ants are wiped out of a certain area, the sheer numbers found everywhere ensure that the area is repopulated soon after.
The damage to electronics in the affected counties is considerable. The Crazy ants have eaten their way through more than $146.5 million worth of electronics in one year alone, just in Texas. And it doesn’t stop there. When an ant gets electrocuted while chomping its way through your computer, a pheromone is released which attracts other Crazy ants to the unfortunate gadget. As more and more ants get attracted and electrocuted, the amount of pheromones being released keeps increasing, eventually resulting in a cluster of ants coming together that results in a circuit overload and a short out.
The only way to slow down this epidemic is to reduce the means by which they can travel, according to LeBrun. Because the breeding members of the ant species cannot fly, the actual range of movement without external help is fairly limited, restricted to less than 650 feet per year. LeBrun is of the opinon that the best way to prevent such wide-spread movement is for people to be more observant while travelling.