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Crazy Ants

I’ve had to put up with red fire ants since my mom and dad turned me loose in short pants. For half a century the South American invaders were a well-established fact of life and had become part of Louisiana lore. The best a southern boy could learn to do was watch where he was standing to avoid the multiple bites that came out of their mounds. Sometimes that wasn’t enough and they’d surprise you by finding a way to get at you any way.

Last Year at Camp Salmen red ant mounds were plentiful, especially on our lawns where people go. Only careful, diligent treatment suppressed them but they never were eliminated and their mounds routinely popped back up. I had gotten used to their annual rhythms and was anticipating their Summer Offensive when, miracle of miracles and glory be, they began to disappear from the property! For me, this is big environmental news.

Last year I noticed that treated “dead” fire ant mounds continued to be occupied by mysterious, tiny black ants that scurried around in the wreckage with a rapid, erratic motion. At first the experts I consulted had no explanation but now we know these are another South American invader, Crazy Ants (Nylanderia fulva), and they are spreading across St. Tammany Parish and the Gulf South, steadily displacing red ant populations as they go. They are also known as Raspberry Ants, named after the fellow who first described them in 2002 but I’m sure everybody will end up calling them by their obvious name.

I have written before about the royal mess we’ve made of Louisiana’s ecology by transplanting non-native species all over the planet then letting ‘er rip. Maybe what has happened is an accidental environmental victory – or maybe not. Scientists are trying to catch up with this new phenomenon and learn more about the ant and how it fits in to Louisiana’s reinvented ecology. One question keeps coming to my mind - how do they do that, especially against such a ferocious, well-placed adversary?

So far I like them just fine, more power to ‘em. They’ve quietly replaced red ants, make no mounds and don’t bite. But they do seem to have an affinity to humanity’s electrical systems, even those found in cars, which could be a draw back.  There are also no poisons or controls known to stop them, yet. At Camp Salmen, Mother Nature is surprising us all the time!

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