Last Modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 8:59 AM
In the American Press there was a write-up about some ants called “tawny crazy ants” in Houma. Could you tell us a little bit more about these ants?
They’re the ants formerly known as Rasberry crazy ants — a reference not to a fruit but to a Houston pest control man who found some in Harris County in 2002 and to the insects’ erratic movements.
The ants have also been called hairy crazy ants, but Victoria Bayless, curator at the Louisiana State Arthropod Museum, said Thursday that “tawny crazy ants” will likely stick as the species’ common name.
The newly agreed-on species classification is Nylanderia fulva. The ants, originally from South America, arrived in the United States via Florida in the 1950s and were identified as Caribbean crazy ants — whose scientific name at the time was Paratrechina pubens and has since been changed to Nylanderia pubens.
After Tom Rasberry discovered the ants 11 years ago in Pasadena, Texas, scientists, unsure the Texas ants were the same as the Florida ants, designated the insects as “Nylanderia species near pubens.”
But in the last few years, researchers — using molecular analysis and close comparison — have determined that both Rasberry’s ants and the Florida ants are in fact N. fulva. Turns out, the Caribbean crazy ant is still only in the Caribbean.
The uncertainty over species designation is common in taxonomy, or the scientific classification of organisms, Bayless said. The only unusual thing in the tawny crazy ants’ case “was that the media got hold of it,” she said.
The first tawny crazy ant specimens recorded in Louisiana came from a Sulphur homeowner who sent them to the museum in Baton Rouge, where Bayless identified them in June 2011.
As the story the reader cites noted, tawny crazy ants are spreading throughout Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. And the LSU AgCenter reported on Aug. 9 that “residents in the areas of Scotlandville, Baker and Central have seen the populations of these invasive pests explode in the past few days.”
The ants — small, reddish-brown, with a penchant for moving at a frenzied pace — build supercolonies, or agglomerations of several nests and queens, and have been known to displace fire ant colonies.
“The monomorphic (similar in size) workers are omnivores and will feed on dead insects and honeydew. Since they do not sting, they are considered a nuisance and not a direct threat to human health,” reads the LSU AgCenter’s website.
“They enter houses, businesses, cars, boats and recreational vehicles en masse for food, water, and shelter. They nest in a variety of habitats, such as under objects in the yard, in potted plants, in compost piles and in soil.”
The AgCenter suggests using the insecticide Termidor to eliminate infestations. For more information, call your local AgCenter office.
The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email email@example.com