Tawny crazy ants spreading in the southeastern US

Tawny crazy ants, Nylanderia fulva, are big time news these days. This species has been causing serious nuisance problems in Texas and  Florida for 15 years plus and has been continually spreading to more counties in those states each year.  Other southern states are not exempt from the spread of this species. Since 2009, the tawny crazy ant has been reported from  Alabama (Mobile County), Georgia (six counties),  Louisiana (numerous parishes), and Mississippi (Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties). It seems likely that this species will soon find its way into South Carolina, as it has already been found in  bordering Chatham County, Georgia.

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Nylanderia fulva, the tawny crazy ant, lateral view of a worker collected in Georgia

Whenever you have populations of an invasive insect numbering in the billions in your yard, you can expect trouble. The fact that these ants are apparently attracted to electricity compounds the problem. Its bad enough being inundated with billions of pesky ants, but having them short out your electricity is just too much!  They are difficult to control because of their sheer abundance coupled with the numerous queens that they produce. This species can easily be moved from location to location as stowaways in vehicles, plants, wood, trash, hay, or pretty much anything that they can nest in temporarily. Really, all it takes is one fertilized queen to start a new colony.

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Nylanderia fulva, lateral view of  a dealate queen collected in Hancock County, MS

One big question is how far north and west will this species travel. Since it is a semi-tropical to tropical species, one would logically assume its northward progress would be stymied by cold weather. In fact, at this time, researchers are doing cold tolerance tests on these ants to try to predict northward movement based on climatic conditions. This may be helpful, or may not be. Consider the introduced red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, which has defied the predictions of experts in its continued spread. The problem is that ants are very adaptable. Not to mention that there may be something to that global warming deal. Go figure. Nevertheless, these ants will likely have a northern limit. Does that mean we can control them? Well, if history is any indication, probably not. The more likely scenario is that huge populations of this, and other invasive ant species, will continue to spread, then gradually, populations will drop back down. Another introduced species will come in, follow a similar pattern, and so forth.

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Nylanderia fulva workers with brood. 

So, what do we do? Well, we do the best we can. First of all, many of our invasive ant species take advantage of our bad habits. One of the worst things that we do in our attempts to change the planet, is to destroy or greatly disturb natural habitats to the point where native ant species are negatively impacted. Many species are sensitive to disturbance, and can no longer live in these disturbed habitats. What is a disturbed habitat, one might ask? Basically, a habitat that is no longer natural. Think – parking lots, roads and roadsides, parks, lawns, suburban lots, railways, managed pine plantations, or really anywhere that has been impacted by mankind. When a natural habitat is disturbed to the point where native species can longer exist there, a void is created. This is an ideal situation for an alien species that has an ecology that allows it to live in marginal habitats. If such a species is introduced and conditions are suitable, it may thrive with absence of competitive native species and with the lack of natural predators.

Secondly, alien species don’t usually get here by themselves. Typically, they are brought in by humans inadvertently through international commerce, then further moved about from state to state and locally within states. All of  this is compounded by global warming, which is allowing species once relegated to tropical locales to thrive in some regions in the US.

We are here, and the ants are here. What do we do? Some type of equilibrium must be achieved. We cannot control all ants. We cannot kill them all. The best we can hope to accomplish is to find a way to live in harmony with these creatures. Second to that, we need to at least keep them out of our homes, businesses, and other structures. This is the more realistic option. Crazy ants are particularly difficult to control, so doing it on your own is next to impossible, unless you want to saturate your immediate environment with poison. Nobody wants that. If you have crazy ants, call a professional! If you are unsure if you have crazy ants, kill a few, put them in a small container, and mail them to a professional to be verified. Mail them to me if you like.

If you do have them, please be careful and try not to transport them elsewhere.

Good luck.

Read more about tawny crazy ants at my page on the MEM’s Southeastern Ants Site at http://www.mississippientomologicalmuseum.org.msstate.edu/Researchtaxapages/Formicidaepages/genericpages/Nylanderia_fulva.htm

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Exotic Ants in Mississippi – species pages

As time permits, I try to put together a species page or two about ants here in the Southeast on my Ants of the Southeastern United States website. As it happens, I currently have a wonderful research associate, Ryan J. Whitehouse,  helping out with our ant work this year, which means we are making some progress. I decided to prioritize our list of exotic ant from Mississippi as many of these species are pests. We currently have 30 exotic species in the state, almost 17% of the total 188 species we know about.

Read more about the exotic species in Mississippi at my page: Exotic Ants of Mississippi.

Strumigenys membranifera, lateral view of worker

Strumigenys membranifera, lateral view of worker

Strumigenys membranifera, full face view of worker

Strumigenys membranifera, full face view of worker

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Collecting ants at Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve in Colbert County, Alabama

The southeastern US is home to many fascinating ants.  Although some folks may be unaware of it, we have numerous unique habitats here in our region, and MEM staff members make it a habit of collecting in as many of these as possible. The Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve, located in Colbert County, Alabama, is one of these wonderful spots. The preserve is privately owned by Jim and Faye Lacefield, who graciously allow visitors and researchers to the site.  This preserve is 700+ acres of rocky, sloped hardwood forests with numerous waterfalls, creeks, rock overhangs and shelters, and large boulders present.

a view from a high point

a view from a high point

Coworker James Lewis and I visited this area this past March and again in early June after hearing rave reviews about it by our bud Paul Davison, a biology professor at the University of North Alabama. And, we were not disappointed! The preserve is beautiful in every sense of the word, and host to many unique plants and insects. Not only that, they even have a cabin available for researchers to stay in. Hard to beat!

James Lewis

James Lewis

Taking a break

Taking a break

Our first visit in late March was mostly one of convenience, rather than optimal collecting weather, as it was unseasonably cold. Despite this, we managed to collect a few species. However, our return trip on June 2nd was much more productive and we ended up with 40 species of ants in total (listed below)! For a more complete log of our collecting at Cane Creek Canyon, visit the Ants of Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve web site.

Some photos from our March trip. Even the trees look cold!

Some photos from our June trip, much warmer and greener!

List of ant species collected at Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve (arranged alphabetically by genus) Aphaenogaster carolinensis (Wheeler) Aphaenogaster fulva Roger Aphaenogaster lamellidens Mayr Brachymyrmex depilis Emery Camponotus snellingi Bolton Crematogaster ashmeadi Mayr Crematogaster lineolata (Say) Crematogaster minutissima Mayr Discothryea testacea Roger Formica dolosa Buren Formica pallidefulva Latreille Formica subsericea Say Hypoponera opacior (Forel) Monomorium minimum (Buckley) Myrmecina americana Emery Nylanderia faisonensis (Forel) Nylanderia querna Kallal and LaPolla Nylanderia vividula (Nylander) Pheidole bicarinata Mayr Pheidole dentata Mayr Pheidole dentigula Smith Pheidole tysoni Forel Ponera pennsylvanica Buckley Prenolepis imparis (Say) Proceratium crassicorne Emery Proceratium pergandei (Emery) Solenopsis carolinensis Forel Stigmatomma pallipes (Haldeman) Strumigenys angulata Smith Strumigenys clypeata Roger Strumigenys louisianae Roger Strumigenys ohioensis Kennedy & Schramm Strumigenys ornata Mayr Strumigenys rostrata Emery Strumigenys talpa Weber Trachymyrmex septentrionalis (McCook) Temnothorax curvispinosus Mayr Temnothorax pergandei Emery Temnothorax schaumii Roger Trachymyrmex septentrionalis (McCook)

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South Carolina Anting

A couple of weeks ago the Mississippi Entomological Museum staff headed to South Carolina for the annual William H. Cross Expedition.  This expedition is a commemorative trip of sorts honoring William H. Cross (1928-1984) who devoted much of his professional life to studying the geographic distribution and morphological and ecological variation of arthropods. Dr. Cross was instrumental in founding the Mississippi Entomological Museum in 1979, and he served as its unofficial director for a year. The William H. Cross Expedition Fund was created following Dr. Cross’s death while on a collecting trip in Mexico, and the fund has been endowed in the Mississippi State University Development Foundation through private donations.

This year’s journey took place in Cheraw State Park and Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Chesterfield County, SC during 8-13 July 2013. The habitat here was predominately longleaf pine forest with scattered scrubby turkey oak sandhill habitat. Of course, our collecting was not centered around just ants, but, since this is an ant blog, I will confine my longwinded writings to the Formicidae collected during this trip.

During the trip, JoVonn and I were certainly the most serious about collecting ants, but Terry Schiefer also picked up some nice species such as Pseudomyrmex ejectus and P. pallidus while beating trees and shrubs. In addition to our typical ant collecting methods, I also snagged several species at blacklights including the likes of Camponotus obliquus. 

In total, we collected 55 species of ants, which I thought was pretty good considering we basically collected them in only about three days and nights. We spent all day Monday driving to SC and all day Saturday driving home. So throw those days out. It rained a bunch Thursday and Friday, and even quite a bit Tuesday afternoon. Of these species, three were new for the state including Lasius murphyi, Pheidole floridana, and Ponera exotica!

The most common ant that we found was Pachycondyla chinensis, the Asian needle ant. This introduced species was pretty much everywhere. Nests were in leaf litter, in and under logs, under debris, and in the soil. Winged females and males were common at the blacklights as well. I was stung by several females at a blacklight on our first night of collecting. NOT FUN! The burning sensation from the stings lasted 30-45 minutes. Solenopsis invicta, the red imported fire ant, was also common here.

Some cool ants that we collected included Formica subintegra, a slave making species that was raiding a colony of F. subsericea.  JoVonn found workers of the  army ant Neivamyrmex carolinensis foraging near the Malaise trap. Pretty cool. I collected Proceratium pergandei in leaf litter right behind the cabin. Also, I found several colonies of the big headed ant Pheidole crassicornis nesting in open areas in the park, including right beside the cabin.

Anyway, lots of ants in a short period of time. Check out the entire list at [link].

Upon returning from the Cross Trip, I had an email from a South Carolina resident who thought he had collected Pseudomyrmex gracilis from the state, a new record. He sent me the specimen and data, and it was indeed, this species. Cool.

For the complete list of South Carolina ants, check out my site here [link].

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Joe MacGown on Animal Planet’s Infested talking about crazy ants

Hairy crazy ants (tawny crazy ants) are in the international media once again. A segment of an episode of “Infested” is currently airing on the Animal Planet network. I was interviewed this past fall for the show. Episodes on Infested are not meant to be scientific studies, but rather dramatizations showing worst case scenarios of various pest species of animals. However,  in this case, the producers did a pretty good job of not exaggerating the problems posed by crazy ants, and in general the show was fairly accurate scientifically. This species of ant, now know to be Nylanderia fulva, a South American species, is indeed a serious pest. Extremely high populations cause serious nuisance issues, reduce biodiversity, and commonly short out electrical equipment. Learn more about the crazy ant at the MEM ant site [link].

The format of Infested shows features interviews with homeowners and specialists (in this case, me) and reenactments featuring Canadian actors who resemble the actual people involved.

This episode can still be viewed on the Animal Planet network, or can be viewed online at:  “http://animal.discovery.com/tv-shows/infested/videos/hairy-crazy-ant.htm

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Mississippi Entomological Museum Ant Collection Continues to Expand

The Mississippi Entomological Museum ant collection continues to expand due to lots of collecting by the MEM Staff, donations and exchanges with wonderful collectors from across the United States, screening of various traps run by APHIS, and retention of borrowed material.

Notable donations from the last few years include ants collected from the Smokey Mountains and southern MS (including Horn Island) by Tim Lockley (MS); cavity nesting species collected from various locales by Rick Duffield (MD); and ants collected in Arkansas by Dave General and Lynn Thompson (truckload of vials). Smaller donations have by made by numerous collectors such as Heath Richter (Mobile, AL); Doug Booher (Athens, GA); Matt Blaine; Mark Deyrup (Archbold Biological Station, FL); Julian Relasco (Gainesville, FL); Michael Skvarla (AR); Paul Davison (AL); Jian Chen (Stoneville, MS); Stoy Hedges; and a bunch of other awesome ant collectors!

Additionally, we are building up large quantities of ants in vials from APHIS collections that our screened by MEM staff. This includes material from across the Southeast, but especially from MS, AL, and KY.

Exchanges have been quite useful as well and this past year we obtained some exquisitely pinned material from the western US  from Robert Hamton (CA). Of course, numerous specimens have been retained from various institutions and/or researchers who either loaned us material or had me identifying material for them.

The influx of material is impossible to keep up with, but gradually is and will be looked at and incorporated into the collection.

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New ant blog about southeastern ants.

Well, I decided to start a blog about ant of the Southeast. Why not, I have lots of info.

 

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