Crazy Ants Invading the Southeast: How Can Rasberry Ants Destroy Your Television? [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 17, 2013 5:09 PM EDT

Crazy ant
Rasberry ants, more commonly known as crazy ants, have swarmed over parts of the southeastern United States. They are displacing pesky fire ant populations, but they can be a far bigger nuisance than the biting ants. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Southeastern United States is under attack from swarms of alien "crazy ants," which are driving dreaded fire ants out of homes, but may be even worse.

Though they don't bite, like fire ants do, the crazy ant -- also called the Rasberry ant or tawny ant -- is driving homeowners nuts.

"When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back," said Ed LeBrun, a researcher at the University of Texas. "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."

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The tawny crazy ants drive out the fire ants by establishing super-colonies, which have multiple queens, and can thus reproduce faster than single-queen species. Not only that, the Rasberry ants run around in crazy patterns, not in a line like other ant populations, which make them harder to bait. They are also resistant to over-the-counter ant-killers. According to LeBrun, you have to call the exterminator several times a year to keep crazy ant infestations out of your house, which can become not only annoying, but expensive.

"I sprayed some pesticide just to knock them down," Tom Rasberry, the exterminator who first identified (and named) the crazy ants, told the New York Times back in 2008. "But the next year I went from seeing a couple thousand to millions of them."

The crazy ants also have a fondness for nesting in electronics. Once inside, they gnaw on insulation around wires, which can make devices like televisions short-circuit. Upon being electrocuted, the ants release an alarm pheromone.

"The other ants are attracted to the chemicals that other ants give off," LeBrun said, which creates a larger nest, much of which is composed of dead, electrocuted ants.

So why do crazy ants invade your electronics in the first place?

Scientists don't actually know. One theory is that since certain ant species use the Earth's magnetic field as they search for food, they may be accidentally attracted to the artificial electronic fields from things like computers and televisions.

Since Rasberry discovered crazy ants in 2002, in a Houston suburb, the ants has spread from Texas to Florida. They are believed to have first arrived in the U.S. on a South American cargo ship.

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