Red Menace! “Crazy Rasberry” Ants Endanger Texas Infrastructure


No one knows where they came from and exterminators are having a hard time dealing with them. They nest in electronic equipment and are endangering the infrastructure of Texas. They are the “Crazy Rasberry” Ants their unchecked march across our southern states is a severe threat to our country:

DALLAS (AP) — In what sounds like a really low-budget horror film, voracious swarming ants that apparently arrived in Texas aboard a cargo ship are invading homes and yards across the Houston area, shorting out electrical boxes and messing up computers.

The hairy, reddish-brown creatures are known as “crazy rasberry ants” — crazy, because they wander erratically instead of marching in regimented lines, and “rasberry” after Tom Rasberry, an exterminator who did battle against them early on.

“They’re itty-bitty things about the size of fleas, and they’re just running everywhere,” said Patsy Morphew of Pearland, who is constantly sweeping them off her patio and scooping them out of her pool by the cupful. “There’s just thousands and thousands of them. If you’ve seen a car racing, that’s how they are. They’re going fast, fast, fast. They’re crazy.”

The ants — formally known as “paratrenicha species near pubens” — have spread to five Houston-area counties since they were first spotted in Texas in 2002.

The newly recognized species is believed to have arrived in a cargo shipment through the port of Houston. Scientists are not sure exactly where the ants came from, but their cousins, commonly called crazy ants, are found in the Southeast and the Caribbean.

“At this point, it would be nearly impossible to eradicate the ant because it is so widely dispersed,” said Roger Gold, a Texas A&M University entomologist.

The good news? They eat fire ants, the stinging red terrors of Texas summers.

But the ants also like to suck the sweet juices from plants, feed on such beneficial insects as ladybugs, and eat the hatchlings of a small, endangered type of grouse known as the Attwater prairie chicken.

They also bite humans, though not with a stinger like fire ants.

They also seem to be attracted to computers, leading to shorts and malfunctions as the tiny red devils clog the equipment with their nests. They’ve already caused malfunctions in in dozens of home electronics and at least one water meter as well as a sewage treatment pump. Even more troubling they have been spotted at both the Johnson Space Center and Hobby Airport.

They are also almost impossible to kill:

Exterminators say calls from frustrated homeowners and businesses are increasing because the ants — which are starting to emerge by the billions with the onset of the warm, humid season — appear to be resistant to over-the-counter ant killers.

“The population built up so high that typical ant controls simply did no good,” said Jason Meyers, an A&M doctoral student who is writing his dissertation on the one-eighth-inch-long ant.

It’s not enough just to kill the queen. Experts say each colony has multiple queens that have to be taken out.

At the same time, the ants aren’t taking the bait usually left out in traps, according to exterminators, who want the Environmental Protection Agency to loosen restrictions on the use of more powerful pesticides.

And when you do kill these ants, the survivors turn it to their advantage: They pile up the dead, sometimes using them as a bridge to cross safely over surfaces treated with pesticide.

It is reported that they’re emerging from nests in the billions as the warmer weather stirs up activity in the colony.

The Chron has a brief history of Texans struggle with these pernicious invaders:

First spotted in 2002 in Pasadena by Tom Rasberry, the exterminator for whom the rice-grain-sized insects are named, the ants now have spread through much of the greater Houston area. May through September is their peak period — a time when billions of the critters with a reluctance to sting and a habit of chewing up electrical wiring may infest a single acre. Homeowners daily sweep up dust bins of their dead and maimed.

“They’re just running wild. You know how racehorses run down the track? They go both ways. They have nowhere to go, just running crazy wild,” complained Patsy Morphew of Pearland. “They crawl through the eaves of the house and go into the bathroom. You know what it’s like to sit down on the commode with crazy ants running everywhere?”

Morphew said she and her husband, Kenneth, have called exterminators to their home on three occasions. “It seems to help for two or three months,” she said, but the ants always return. Each morning the Morphews sweep up cups of the ants from their patio and dredge still more from their pool.

Jason Meyers, a Texas A&M University entomology doctoral candidate who has studied the ants, said no one is certain where they came from. What is known, though, is that their range rapidly is expanding. Two poisons — Termidor and Top Choice — are available to exterminators, but unless a sufficient “buffer zone” is established around an infested property, additional ants simply will crawl over the bodies of their fallen comrades.

Rasberry said he treated a half-acre plot with insecticide, returning months later to find the area covered thickly with two inches of dead ants. Living insects teemed on the top layer of insect corpses.

Meyers said an untreated acre of grassland in the Houston area might contain billions of the insects, which create multi-queen nests in damp areas beneath rocks and debris.

There’s also a video report. The ants rarely bite humans but the fear is that they will quickly alter the ecosystem and exterminate beneficial birds, insects and even crops.

How did they get here?Accident or bio-terrorism? This recent case of a person attempting to introduce invasive Giant beetles into Philadelphia via the mail makes the sudden appearance of this as yet unidentified species of ant suspicious. From Fox:

PHILADELPHIA — Customs agents seized more than two dozen giant beetles — some the size of a child’s hand — from an overseas package after postal workers heard the insects making scratching noises.

The large bugs arrived last week from Taiwan at a post office in Mohnton, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia, in a box whose contents were labeled as toys, gifts and jellies, officials said Wednesday.

But the postmaster suspected the package contained live organisms and notified authorities, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. The package was sent to Philadelphia, where it was X-rayed and then opened.

“The specimens were some of the largest of their kind, and some of the largest I’ve ever seen, averaging five to six inches in diameter,” John Plummer, an agency agriculture specialist, said in a statement Wednesday. “They are highly destructive insect pests that can cause extensive damage to fruit and vegetable crops, trees, shrubs and turf grasses.”

In all, authorities found 26 Hercules, rhinoceros and Goliath beetles. It is illegal to ship live beetles into the United States without a permit from the Department of Agriculture.

Seven of the beetles were in containers labeled by gender, which means they could have been intended for breeding, customs agency spokesman Steve Sapp said Wednesday.

I suppose it is possible that there’s some innocent reason a person might be trying to secretly breed destructive invasive species, some of which are as big as a child’s hand, in the suburbs of a major city. But isn’t it likely that someone is trying to cause the kind of chaos and financial ruin the people of Houston are looking at if they can’t get a handle on this problem in Philadelphia?

Here’s a map of their spread. Extrapolate the four year period into a couple of decades and you’ll see why this is panic inducing. That and this line from Texas A&M’s Urban Entomology website:

Another species of Paratrechina, fulva, has caused great pestilence in rural and urban areas of Colombia. In many cases, they displaced all other ant species. Small livestock (e.g. chickens) may die of asphyxia. Larger animals, such as cattle, are attacked around eyes, nasal fossae and hooves. They have also dried grasslands due to their association with homopterans.