Got ants? Get yourself an ardvark

Published 12:00am Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Aren’t there amazing things in the world around us? Look what Mother Nature gives us — flowers, trees, birds, bees, tawny crazy ants… Yep, we’ve got us some new ants and they is crazy.

Remember the invasion of the South by fire ants that snuck into town from South America by stowing away on a ship. Well, there’s a new invader even the fire ants can’t stop, and it could be heading our way from Texas.

Tawny crazy ants (Nylanderia fulva) are so named because of their lovely butterscotch color and because humans like to put the label crazy on anything that demonstrated new and different behavior. I heard about these ants from my friend, Dennis, who is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the natural world. He inspired me to find out more because it sounded like fire ants had met their match.

Not being a fire ant fan, I was happy to hear there was a critter that can make them as miserable as they make humans. Apparently, tawny crazy ants and fire ants are long-standing enemies.

Scientists think the war between these two species of South American ants may be thousands of years old. Now that they are in our country, the battle continues and it looks like the tawny ones may defeat the fire ones.

They do this because they have what amounts to ant bulletproof vests they excrete to protect themselves from the fire ant venom. Seems when the two meet in battle and the fire ants give it their best shot, the tawny ants cover themselves in a chemical antidote that is also a venom. It apparently doesn’t kill the enemy but sends them running.

A battle must be something to see. First, the fire ants swarm. Then the tawny crazy ants show up. The fire ants fire and the tawny ants respond by running off to the side and grooming themselves. (Imagine human soldiers doing this. The fighting stops while one group washes their faces and combs their hair).

What the grooming ants are actually doing is squirting that antidote from a special abdominal gland into their mouths and them spreading it all over their bodies. (Thank goodness humans don’t do this). I suppose not being able to sting the enemy to death aggravates the fire ants so much, they give up and retreat.

These little tawny buggers are so fierce, scientists think they may even invade fire ant mounds and take them over. So finally, fire ants get a taste of their own medicine.

Oh, but don’t start the celebration over the demise of the fire ant just yet. It seems the victors in this epic battle have some very bad habits that might give humans more pain than a foot covered in fire ants bites.

The tawny creatures have a favorite hangout. They are drawn to electronic devices — car stereos, circuit boxes, machinery. In fact, they love electronic devices so much that when they stream in, they form a single, squirming mass. And, that mass completes a circuit and shorts it. According to one article, crazy ants can ruin laptops this way, and one exterminator said the ants have temporarily shut down chemical plants.

Oh and they also decimate native insects, overtake beehives and destroy the colonies, and may smother bird chicks struggling to hatch. In South America, they have obstructed the nasal cavities of chickens and asphyxiated the birds. And they swarm into cows’ eyes.

Make fire ants look better and better.

Unfortunately, a lot of what works to get rid of other ants doesn’t work on the tawny crazy variety.

So, in case the crazy ones make it to Alabama, I leave you with the best suggestion I found for stemming the infestation. It is another of Mother Nature’s amazing creations and it seems to work well in controlling runaway ant populations.

Get yourself an aardvark.

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