New Rasberry ant species invades campus
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 16:05
The coming of spring signifies the return of ants, many of which can be found meticulously patrolling the sidewalks around campus.Among them is a newcomer: the Rasberry crazy ant, an invasive species that has recently colonized the campus.
The Rasberry crazy ant was first discovered in Harris County, Texas. Pest Exterminator Tom Rasberry, first identified the ant in 2002.
Since then, it has rampantly spread eastward, all the way to Florida, accordinng to ecology and evolutionary biology professor Scott Solomon. He said the Rasberry crazy ant’s identity has remained a mystery for years, and the ant actually went through a few name changes, from Paratrechina species near pubens to Nylandaria species near pubens – which is what it currently goes by.
Solomon added that the ants were not necessarily the biggest or the toughest ants around but are able to outcompete other ant species through their sheer numbers.
Rasberry crazy ants are highly invasive and their colonies can number in the millions, Solomon said.
“Crazy ants become problematic for people when they move into close proximity with humans,” Solomon said. “They seem to have a particular fondness for electronic devices, like computers and cell phones.”
Solomon added that it is unclear whether these ants are actually attracted to electrical fields or whether a computer is simply a good place for them to nest. They like places that are protected and have a small, defensible opening, like a laptop, he noted.
Rasberry said there is a pressing need to stop the Rasberry crazy ants altogether.
“In my opinion these ants pose a clear and present danger to our way of life, and the time for real action was years ago,” Rasberry said. “If we don’t act now the consequences could be irreversible.”
According to Rasberry, the Rasberry crazy ant has already displaced the red imported fire ant in many areas.
Rasberry said that as a colony, Rasberry crazy ants are so powerful that they have the ability to completely cover trees and ground space. So far, these ants have displaced birds, honey bee colonies, and even farm animals, Rasberry noted.
However, Solomon said there may not be need for alarm, at least not yet.
“Despite its invasive nature, the ecological impact of crazy ants remains to be seen”, Solomon said.
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department Chair Evan Siemann said he has worked closely with a graduate student on studying the Rasberry crazy ant and red invasive fire ant.
Siemann said one of their most significant findings was that when faced colony to colony, the Rasberry crazy ant overpowered the red invasive fire ant, but when faced one-to-one, the Rasberry crazy ant became much less of a threat, so its power stemmed from numbers.
Solomon said however, that unlike the red imported fire ant, Rasberry crazy ants cannot sting and can only inflict a painless bite, so they are less of a public health concern.
“Many people are allergic to fire ant stings, but [Rasberry crazy ants are] probably less likely to ruin your picnic,” Solomon said.