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It sounds like a horror movie: Biting ants invade by the millions. A camper's metal walls bulge from the pressure of ants nesting behind them. A circle of poison stops them for only a day, and then a fresh horde shows up, bringing babies. Stand in the yard, and in seconds ants cover your shoes.
It's an extreme example of what can happen when the ants - which also can disable huge industrial plants - go unchecked. Controlling them can cost thousands of dollars. But the story is real, told by someone who's been studying ants for a decade.
"Months later, I could close my eyes and see them moving," said Joe MacGown, who curates the ant, mosquito and scarab collections at the Mississippi State Entomological Museum at Mississippi State University.
The hairy crazy ants do wipe out one pest - fire ants - but that's cold comfort. "I prefer fire ants to these," MacGown said. "I can avoid a fire ant colony."
In 2009, we first discovered populations of Nylanderia pubens, the hairy crazy ant in Hancock County, Mississippi. By the following year, 2010, we had found it in at least 7 sites in Jackson County, MS. This exotic species is thought to be native to South America. Since 2000, it has become widespread in Florida, having been found in at least 20 counties, and in Texas, where it has been reported from 18 counties thus far. More recently, it has been reported from two parishes in Louisiana.
And they're on the move in Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. In Texas, they've invaded homes and industrial complexes, urban areas and rural areas. They travel in cargo containers, hay bales, potted plants, motorcycles and moving vans. They overwhelm beehives - one Texas beekeeper was losing 100 a year in 2009. They short out industrial equipment.
If one gets electrocuted, its death releases a chemical cue to attack a threat to the colony, said Roger Gold, an entomology professor at Texas A&M.
"The other ants rush in. Before long, you have a ball of ants," he said.
The longhorn crazy ant, Paratrechina longicornis, is a species of ant. The ants are named because instead of following straight lines, they dash along erratically. They do not bite or sting people. Longhorn crazy ants are able to reproduce with their siblings without any negative effects of inbreeding. This has allowed them to become one of the most widespread invasive ants in the tropics. The queen produces daughters which are her genetic clone, and sons that are the genetic clone of her mate. This is known as double clone. This was discovered by evolutionary biologist Morgan Pearcy of the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
-Coloration: grayish black
-Body 1/8 inch in length (monomorphic)
-Body has numerous long coarse hairs
-Workers have long legs and antennae
-Workers have 12-segmented antennae with no club
-Small circle of hair present at tip of the abdomen
The life history of this species is poorly known. Crazy ant colonies tend to be small to moderately sized, containing as many as 2,000 workers and 40 queens. Mating flights have not been observed; colonies possibly split and form new colonies by budding. Crazy ants are highly adaptable in their nesting habits and can live in habitats that are very dry or relatively moist. Colonies are highly mobile and relocate when conditions become unfavorable. Outside, they nest in rotten wood, fallen tree limbs and logs, tree stumps, under stones, bricks and lumber. They often are found in the soil of potted plants. Numerous colonies may be found around plant roots in mulched plant beds. Queens, brood and attending worker ants often are found in curled leaves littering these plant beds. Inside, crazy ants often nest in wall voids and beneath floors, particularly near hot-water pipes and heaters.