Tiny 'crazy ants' are a giant nuisance for U.S. Gulf Coast

Sat Oct 26, 2013 2:09pm EDT
 
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By Andrea Lorenz

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Every few days, Joe Stuckey unleashes chemicals on the legions of tiny ants that invade his home and swarm over his 40-acre property south of Houston. Once they die, he scoops up them up by the shovel-full. Then he repeats the ritual.

"It's literally a huge problem," said Stuckey, a Houston environmental attorney.

Stuckey is one of several landowners who allow researchers to use their property to learn more about tawny crazy ants, a nuisance spreading rapidly across the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Originally from South America, the ants were discovered in Texas in 2002, and there have been confirmed sightings in at least four other states - Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida. They are "within four miles of Alabama right now," according to research scientist Joe MacGown at the Mississippi Entomological Museum.

The good news: Tawny crazy ants do not sting or bite like fire ants, which have been around since the 1970s.

The bad news: Tawny ants multiply very quickly and like to make their home in warm, tight spaces including around electrical equipment, under floorboards and in car engines.

Large swarms of the ants have been found in the mall area of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, although they have not done any significant damage, said NASA Houston Facilities Management and Operations Chief Shelia Powell in an email.

"We are principally concerned about the possible damage to infrastructure such as electronics, employees' automobiles, and our facilities," Powell said.   Continued...