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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About joemacgown

Artist, Entomologist, like to exercise
This entry was posted in Invasive ants, MEM Ant News, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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