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Raspberry crazy ants march toward Houston -- will arrive in weeks

28 March 2014, 11:04 pm EDT By James Maynard Tech Times
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Tawny crazy ants are on the way to Houston. They may wipe out stinging fire ants there. Here's why the raspberry ant is even less welcome than that unpopular insect.  ( Joe MacGown, Mississippi Entomological Museum )

Raspberry crazy ants are coming toward Houston in swarms of hundreds of millions of insects. They are due to arrive in the Texas city in just a few weeks. 

These tiny terrors have already caused havoc in more than 20 counties throughout the Lone Star State. Raspberry ants are more dangerous than fire ants in a number of ways. They spread their colonies out far wider than the more common insect. In areas where the raspberry ant already exists, people are shoveling the tiny insects from bathrooms and kitchens. 

At one time, Texas was dominated by populations of fire ants. But even those stinging creatures are no match for the raspberry ant. University of Texas researchers report the advancing insects coat their bodies with a special compound that helps protect them from the venom of fire ants. 

Raspberry ants were given their common name in honor of Tom Raspberry, the exterminator who first recognized the species in 2002. They are technically known as tawny crazy ants, or Nylanderia fulva.

In the wild, raspberry ants live under rocks, in trees, and among grass. They do not build hills like many other species of ant. Mulch piles are favorite hideouts for the insects. These tiny creatures invade homes, and often destroy electronic devices. 

Pesticides are not effective against these terrifying creatures. 

Last year, a study of invasions of raspberry ants into areas once dominated by fire ants was published in the journal Biological Invasions. 

"When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back," Ed LeBrun, one of the co-authors of the 2013 study said.

This invasion of the United States by stinging insects from South America is the latest in a series of migrations, caused by human encroachment on wild areas. Argentine ants first appeared in New Orleans in 1891, followed by black imported fire ants that arrived in Alabama at the end of the First World War. Red imported fire ants arrived in the United States in the 1930's, and quickly began displacing the two earlier species of insect. 

"In infested areas, large numbers of tawny crazy ants have caused great annoyance to residents and businesses. In some situations, it has become uncomfortable for residents to enjoy time in their yards. Companion animals may, in some cases, avoid the outdoors as well," researchers at Texas A&M wrote on their Web site.

So far, the ants are still staying fairly close to waterways, suggesting their migration may be limited in the territory they may one day reach. Because raspberry ants capable of mating do not fly, the speed of their migration is limited.  

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