Invasion of the crazy ants

Admittedly, the title of this post sounds more like a sappy holiday movie than a biological threat. But, don’t be fooled—an “Ant Armageddon” has arrived in Louisiana. Even though their name does not strike the terror of killer bees or fire ants, this invasive species is on the march with the potential to cause problems all over the state.

Crazy ants get their name from their propensity to wander around haphazardly and not follow a normal trail like most other ants. Another key to identifying these tiny, reddish-brown ants is their extremely long and slender legs.

They do not sting or wield a painful bite. However, they have penchant for mayhem and destruction in both rural and urban areas. The ants grow to huge populations with multiple nests that can short out electrical equipment. It doesn’t take long for swarms to turn a suburban backyard into a scene from a Hitchcock movie.

“There are so many ants that in three to five seconds you will have hundreds of ants on you. You can’t tolerate that many ants crawling on you,” says Dennis R. Ring, Ph.D., a professor and extension specialist in entomology at LSU AgCenter. “Pets will also refuse to go in the yard because they will be covered in ants. [This species] displaces everything in the yard. Everything else on the ground disappears. No fire ants. No lizards. Nothing. All the other insects that were in the yard are gone. There’s nothing but tawny crazy ants. You can’t look a quarter of an inch in any direction without seeing ants. The ground literally looks like it’s moving. They are a horrendous nuisance when they build up to these really high numbers.”

Understanding the importance of stamping out the pests who have already begun to infest Louisiana homes and other buildings, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency exemption for use for Termidor SC insecticide (which is also approved for termite and flea control) until Nov. 1, 2015.

Pest control professionals certified by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture can now apply the insecticide on man-made structures in Ascension, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Lafayette, Lafourche, Morehouse, Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Terrebonne and West Baton Rouge and additional parishes once AgCenter entomologists confirm a specimen to be tawny crazy ants.

Tawny crazy ant populations typically peak between July and November. Since the stakes are so high, Ring encourages Baton Rougeans to look for evidence the pest is present, and that may be hard to find. Tawny crazy ants do not build mounds like fire ants. They can be moved in anything they can lay eggs in. They can nest under trashcans, pots, leaves or anything that can hold a slight amount of moisture.

The best tactic is vigilance and periodically inspecting your property for ants behaving erratically. But, even that’s not proof-positive. Louisiana is home to several species of crazy ants, so it’s best to bring specimen to an entomologist for definitive identification.

“If you’re not really aware, you’re not going to notice them, and then you’re going to wonder, ‘Where the heck all these ants came from,’” Ring says. “Once [the ants are at] your site, you’re going to have to fight them every year.”

Rings also suggests Capital City residents monitor anything—particularly landscape materials—brought on to their property.

“If material has insects in it, either don’t bring it on the property, or treat it first to get rid of the insects,” he says.

If prevention fails, some bait treatments work with early detection. But, as the colonies increase, the only option is liquid insecticide, which has its own risks to the people, pets, plants and the environment.
To confirm the presence of tawny crazy ants, Baton Rougeans can send samples to Ring at 404 Life Sciences Bldg., Department of Entomology, 110 LSU Union Square, Baton Rouge, LA 70803.

Photo Provided by LSU: The tawny crazy ant is approximately 2 mm long and reddish-brown and moves around in a crazy manner. (Photo by Mike Quinn, TexasEnto.net).

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All these pets have been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, heartworm tested and microchipped. Many other adoptable dogs are available through Companion Animal Alliance.