Saturday, September 16, 2006

ENV: New Ants to Worry About!

Move Over Fire Ants
Science Magazine, 15 September 2006, Random Samples

A mysterious species of ant has invaded Houston, Texas, and no one knows where the creatures came from. The insects, of the genus Paratrechina, are known as "crazy ants" because of their frenzied movements. They are so numerous and aggressive that they're driving away the notorious imported red fire ant. The crazy ants are a major headache for homeowners, and researchers fear they could also harm wildlife and endanger electrical equipment.

An exterminator first noticed the ants in 2002 and contacted Roger Gold, an urban entomologist at Texas A&M University in College Station. He and graduate student Jason Meyers are studying ways to control the ants but without much luck. "You can kill hundreds of thousands of ants, and the remaining ones walk over the cadavers and continue on their way," Gold says.

The ants raised worries this summer when they crawled into circuit boards and shorted out a radiation scanner at the Port of Houston. They are now about 20 kilometers from NASA's Johnson Space Center. Research on control is hampered by the fact that the Houston species hasn't been identified yet. And it's not clear whether the ants are agricultural pests, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture isn't taking action.


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