'Crazy Ants' Arrive From South America: Invasive Species Threaten Gulf Coast States

By Ben Wolford on October 28, 2013 4:20 PM EDT

Crazy Ants bring down a beetle in Australia.
Yellow crazy ants bring down a beetle in Australia.

Crazy ants, perhaps America's most annoying invasive species, are making their homes in walls and appliances across the Southeastern United States, and there's pretty much nothing anyone can do about it. 

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First noticed in 2002 in Houston, Texas, the insect known as the Rasberry or tawny crazy ant has spread to Florida, displacing fire ants and disrupting ecosystems as they go. They're tiny, they have multiple queens, they prefer to live inside your stuff (car engines, floor boards, DVD players) and they don't fancy the taste of traditional ant killers.

But that's not why they're called crazy ants. They take their name from their eratic marching patterns.

The best way to understand the crazy ant is to look at this YouTube video from a pest control guy in Tampa named Chet. He appears to be in somebody's garage to clean up the mess after he soaked the place in poison.

"There's actually millions and millions of them," he says. "And if you could just see this brown here, it's just dead bodies. ... If you looked at it, you'd think something fell off a tree or something."

Chet went on: "This place was just treated with material less than a week ago, so it killed all these, but the problem is it doesn't keep 'em killed." Fresh reinforcements arrive, undaunted by the piles of their fallen comrades.

People in Texas are dropping thousands of dollars on exterminators and spending hours on the stomach-turning task of clean-up.

"You almost have to see it to believe what a nuisance these can become," Robert Puckett, an associate research scientist at Texas A&M University, told Reuters. "I've been in people's houses where they show me trash bags full of ants they've swept up."

This species of crazy ant comes from Brazil and Argentina. Some people hypothesize they came to Houston as stowaways on a cargo ship. Since landing here, they've been extremely efficient at banishing fire ants, which were the first obnoxious South American ant to settle in the southern U.S.

The locals, long pestered by the fire ants' stinging wrath, wish their old nuisance bugs would come back. The fire ants at least kept to themselves. Other native species were found to have been run off by the crazy ants. Meanwhile, "overall ant biomass," a horrifying visual, has gone up since the crazy ant came to town, scientists wrote in an article to appear in next month's issue of Biological Invasions. Experts still aren't sure how crazy ants have been able to crush the ecological competition so soundly.

Until somebody figures out a repellant, crazy ants will continue to infest people's stuff, like this poor YouTube user's laptop.

"I just wish they would go away," the man says in despair. "Lately we've been facing so many ant attacks. We found like five big nests around our house, and we keep killing them. Poison, spray. And they keep coming back. As of right now we're fighting a losing, losing battle."

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