Monday, August 24, 2015

Ants in pants? Not yet. But everywhere else

The good thing about tawny crazy ants is that they don't bite people. The bad thing about tawny crazy ants is that there are so many bad things. The worst thing just might be our inability to prevent these persistent pests from invading property.

And invade they have. Over the past 13 years, tawny crazy ants, which are native to South America, have infiltrated Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. In Florida, they have spread through 27 of the state's 67 counties, including Lake.

About a year ago, brigades of the brazenly aggressive insects, identified scientifically as Nylanderia fulva, took up residence in and around our house. What initially looked like mounds of brown dirt on our garage floor turned out to be masses of 1/8-inch long, reddish-brown ants.


Dirt?  No.  Ants. Crazy ants in our garage.


That disturbing discovery caused us to look elsewhere. Our findings were even more upsetting. Not only were ants in the garage, we also found them in the gardens, the lawn and along the lakeshore. They were even in the house. To combat the problem, we hired a pest control company. Yet, the ants keep coming. We have managed to keep them out of the house but have been unable to quell their outdoor presence.

Unlike most ant colonies that have one queen, tawny crazy ants serve multiple queens and aren't picky about where they nest. Instead of excavating their own holes, they seek out any available existing cavity or space into which their large colonies can fit. They especially like warm, moist locations, which on our lakefront property is just about everywhere.

They are called crazy ants because they act erratically, traveling helter-skelter in search of food. These voracious omnivores eat the sweet parts of plants and also "milk" aphids, mealy worms and other insects that secrete sugary substances. They have been known to destroy entire honeybee colonies, eat baby birds and decimate populations of native insects.

On the positive side, they also wipe out fire ant colonies, although I'm not sure the tradeoff is worth it. A careful person can avoid contact with fire ants but once tawny crazy ants invade property it's impossible to walk outside without the little buggers crawling up your legs.


Despite a substantial size difference, a smaller tawny crazy ant is able to overcome the much larger fire ant because it's able to detoxify itself after being stung. (Source: Live Science)


Although it hasn't happened to us yet, one of the most detrimental results of a tawny crazy ant infestation is the destruction of electronic equipment. These particular ants have a propensity for short circuiting electronics. They have been known to wreak havoc on air conditioning units and damage transformers, car engines and appliances. Even computers and cell phones have fallen victim to the tawny-colored devils.

Tawny crazy ants have no natural predators and don't respond to normal ant bait. Cold weather deters them but in Florida, where winter is short and rarely severe, populations rebound quickly when spring rolls around.

The pest control company we hired has worked diligently to tackle the problem. Chemical compounds have been applied and while each application provides temporary relief, the ants inevitably recover and come back in full force.

Anyone who has ever felt insignificant should pay attention to the tawny crazy ant. One ant alone is inconsequential, but put that single ant in a colony with a million other small beings and an insurmountable powerhouse is created. They are living proof of strength in numbers.

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On the lighter side...
Just saw this drawing by cartoonist Isabella Bannerman.  I added it to end this post on an upbeat note.


  

9 comments:

  1. What is your pest control company using to keep them out of the house???? I live rurally on 8 acres and I am over run with them!

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  2. Powdered Cinnamon makes them "Sneeze", then they move...

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    1. If only it was that simple, Roland. Unfortunately, it's not.

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  3. Loosing the waxy coat on other ants has helped in the past. Same with diatomaceous earth. Have you tried this? I am always concerned when ants move because heavy rains normally flow in a few days.

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    1. we've used diatomaceous earth in the past for other insect problems but this particular type of ant lives in such huge - really huge - multiple colonies that it is not thwarted by deatomaceous earth or even common pesticides. it's a really tough - perhaps impossible - pest to get rid of.

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  4. I'm itching just reading this. :-(

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    1. i know. just thinking of them makes me itch too. thinking positively, while they may crawl all over me whenever i step outside, at least they don't bite. that's something. it would be a whole lot worse if we were besieged by a massive quantity of pesticide-resistant, biting little buggers.

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  5. Am in south florida..we have some crazy ants here. Would be interested in hearing from someone who has used Neem Oil to try to combat an invasion. We do use DE here to some extent and also garlic/pepper extract and we do have some ants but I consider them mostly inconsequential at this point in my home garden. If they really get crazy I spin up a pot of boiling water on all 4 burners and go to town..burning water kills all the ants. If you remember nothing of my post, remember that.

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    1. Your post has good advice for those living in normal size lot. It just wouldn't work if you live on acreage as we do.

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