"Crazy Rasberry Ants" Come to Houston -- & You Thought Fire Ants Were Bad
Formally known as the tawny crazy ant, this ant hails from Central and South America.
Photo courtesy of Joe MacGown, Mississippi Entomological Museum
On top of tornadoes, hurricanes and this stupid hot Houston heat, it seems as if Houstonians have one more item to add to their list of things to hate: Rasberry crazy ants.
According to Texas entomologists, these ants have been found in more than 23 Texas counties since 2002, and in numbers so large they're driving out fire ants.
"When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back," Edward LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in the College of Natural Sciences, said in a statement. "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."
While dealing with fire ants is a staple for anyone with a history in Texas, these Rasberry crazy ants could very well drive out this pest from backyards, and possibly drive Houstonians from their homes.
"These little tiny ants will invade homes and make life very difficult for those that are so unlucky as to get them," said Roger Gold, professor and Endowed Chair in Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M.
"Unlucky" doesn't begin to cover it. Gold said that while Rasberry crazy ants do not sting or bite like fire ants, they are attracted to electrical boxes and electrical service units and are known for causing problems by shorting out electronic equipment, including in industries around the coastal areas.
According to Gold, these ants are not eating the insulation around the electronic equipment. Rather, the Rasberry crazy ants get into the breaker point or into the electronic circuitry and cause a short.
"A short has consequences in terms of how you preserve the electronics in these things," Gold said. "We do not have any evidence of fires or anything like that, but a short on the computer, particularly in the industrial complex which is down in the Houston area, we know that that has happened. Those are things that people don't talk about necessarily, because there are people who hold stock in that company."
Not only can this be a problem with companies, but also in Houston residential areas. The ants can have costly consequences when they invade air-conditioning systems, and Gold said fixing these problems is very expensive.
"The other problem with [Rasberry crazy ants] is home owners are not necessarily interested in cooperating because it is decreasing their property values when they're trying to sell a home, which many people are," Gold said. "The buyers notice that these ants are there and they know of the difficulties that are involved with controlling them. That reduces values."
Once the ants have found your home, it won't matter if you're kneeling in the garden or sitting inside watching TV -- the ants will invade and will be hard to control. If a home is invaded and any sort of food or anything that could attract the ants falls to the ground, the ants will be sure to discover it.
"They invade houses, there's no question about that," Gold said. "And they occur in thousands upon thousands of little, tiny ants, and they can come underneath the door thresholds and just into any opening in a building."
Gold said home remedies simply don't cut it, and even exterminators will have a hard time killing the ants, since they are known for eating most of the poison baits that kill fire ants. According to Gold, pest control can use a pesticide called Fipronil, a tool the public does not have access to.
"There are no home remedies that are nearly as effective as the commercial pesticide," Gold said. "It's just a fact. Controlling the ants is done professionally and can be expensive because in some cases, it takes multiple trips back to the site to clean up the ants that continue to invade. In other words, if you control the ants in one person's home and they've done nothing about the surrounding properties, they just move back in. [This is a problem] that's not ever going to go away."
While Gold said one positive that comes from the ants could be their ability to control other species, namely by taking them out, the ants still bring a bad situation to any environment.
"Just be vigilant," Gold said. "Like a lot of other insects, you have to be careful you're not taking them home with you. And then if you do have problems with them, you may want to consider professional pest control because of the special permissions for chemicals that are used. There are home remedies that people talk about; however, the best home remedy is just sanitation. Clean up. In real estate the saying is location, location, location, and when it comes to the rasberry/tawny fire ant, it's sanitation, sanitation, sanitation."
For more information on the Rasberry crazy ant, visit urbanentomology.tamu.edu.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.