WESLACO — A new invasive ant species has been found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that is difficult to control and can cause major damage to electrical systems in homes and businesses, according to an expert at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Weslaco.
“This ant new to our area is called the Rasberry crazy ant and
people should know that it cannot be controlled with common, over-the-counter pesticides used to manage the more common ants here
The Rasberry crazy ant was first discovered in Texas in 2002 by a Houston-area pest control operator named Tom Rasberry, who lends his name to the invasive ant species, Villanueva said.
“They invade households and rapidly reach very high populations that only a qualified pest control operator can control since the needed pesticides are not available to the public,” he said.
They are called crazy because of their erratic behavior; they do not follow an ant trail, preferring to forage at will.
“Besides being a nuisance, they chew the wires of a business or home’s electrical system, the air conditioning system — even computers,” he said.
Rasberry crazy ants can invade by the millions and shut down anything from computer systems and communications networks to hospital data bases and airport security control panels, he said. Repairs can cost millions.
“In large numbers, their exoskeletons can also cause an allergic reaction in some people,” he said.
Rasberry crazy ants are small, have a reddish brown color and look very similar to native species of ants, including the very common sugar ant.
“These ants are all the same size, they forage randomly both indoors and outdoors and they can displace fire ants and other ants and insects important to our ecology,” Villanueva said.
Rasberry crazy ants can bite but they do not cause irritation.
“The concern is how rapidly they can invade a structure,” he said. “And once they get in, their numbers increase rapidly and can cause very costly damage to anything electrical.”
Because they look so similar to native ant species already here, Villanueva said even trained professional pest control operators have a difficult time identifying the ants with the naked eye.
“To be sure, pest control operators and anybody else wishing to make a positive ID should ship samples of the ants in rubbing alcohol to a Texas A&M laboratory in College Station,” he said.
The lab’s address and more information about the ant can be found at http://urbanentomology.tamu.edu/ant/exotic-tx.cfm.
Villanueva positively identified the first instance of the ant in the Valley when he visited a home in the Weslaco area recently that had been battling the ants for several months, unsuccessfully.
“There were thousands of them completely covering the interior border areas of the entire home,” he said. “There were many thousands more throughout the floors. The homeowners managed to kill lots of them with common pesticides, but they kept coming back because they were not treating the source of the ants, which is their nest.”
Ant bait products used to treat even fire ants in this area will not be effective against the Rasberry crazy ant,” Villanueva said.
“It takes a professional, and even that person needs to properly identify the ant before they apply the appropriate pesticides.”
For more information, contact Villanueva at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco at 956-968-5581.