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Invasive crazy ants have a taste for technology

Tawny crazy ants, which have an attraction to nesting in electronics, are displacing fire ants in parts of the United States.

Tawny Crazy Ant
This little monster likes electrical gear.
Mississippi Entomological Museum, Joe MacGown

It sounds like an old black-and-white monster movie. Crazy, tech-nesting ants invade America! That would make for a great matinee, but it's oh so very real. Tawny crazy ants, known scientifically as Nylanderia fulva, are marching into territories once dominated by fire ants -- and they're not being very good neighbors.

While fire ants have made their sting notorious, tawny crazy ants have a propensity to infiltrate unwelcome places en masse. They're making fire ants look positively polite. The South American native ants are attracted to electronics in particular. Once inside, they create short circuits, says University of Texas research assistant Edward LeBrun.

"When they get electrocuted, they release an alarm pheromone," he says, adding that this attracts more ants and exacerbates the problem.

LeBrun and two colleagues published a paper about the ant issue in the Biological Invasions journal, the most awesome science journal you've probably never heard of. So far, the invasive species has been found in Texas, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

"When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back," LeBrun says.

Tawny crazy ants don't sting, but the huge populations spill over into the walls of houses, potted plants, crawl spaces, vehicles, and electrical equipment. That's about the last thing you would want to find when you open up your electrical box to check your breakers.

You might want to think twice about leaving your laptop outside in crazy ant territory, but the ants are more likely to get into fixed equipment, house wiring, and even recreational vehicles.

According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Extension, some infestations have caused several thousands of dollars in damage and remedial costs.

Controlling the ant invasion is challenging. They crowd out native ants and they don't respond to most poison baits. Texas A&M recommends clearing clutter off the ground and hiring professional pest control services.

(Via Chron.com)