Thursday, April 10, 2014
Did you hear about the “crazy ants” infesting Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi?
I don’t actually know if they’re crazy; maybe they’re just misunderstood. But their colonies move so erratically, rushing to and fro, that etymologists shook their heads and said, “This species is crazy.”
The ants were first spotted in Texas, back in 2002. Apparently when you see ‘em, it’s hard to forget ‘em. They don’t sting, but they do infest barns, homes, transformers, laptops and smartphones.
How crazy is the crazy ant? It’s even displaced fire ants (aka Flaming Jaws of Death ants. Yes, I made that up) in several locations. They “are highly invasive and aggressively compete for other species’ resources [to] establish dominance,” according to an ABC news report.
Poison bait that works on fire ants doesn’t faze crazy ants because—are you ready? They won’t eat it! Crazy like a fox!
Crazy ants are so bad, “When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back,” a University of Texas researcher said. “Fire ants are in many ways very polite. They live in your yard. They form mounds and stay there, and they only interact with you if you step on their mound.”
When you make fire ants look good, you know you’re crazy.
I had never heard of fire ants when I moved from North Carolina to South Carolina in 1990. We lived in a little house in Berkeley County and I was all into being June Cleaver (a phase that passed quickly). I decided the backyard needed a clothesline so our sheets and such would smell fresh and clean, like those of my childhood. (Cue nostalgic music.)
Thus my ex bought metal poles, eye bolts, coated line, etc., spent a few hours in the yard with a post-hole digger and voila! There sagged a clothesline.
It was a beautiful spring day, so I stripped the beds and threw everything in the washer. When the cycle finished I piled the load in a laundry basket and walked to the clothesline in my flip-flops with the basket propped on my hip. I felt cute and virtuous.
I had one sheet already hung and two clothespins in my mouth when there came a tickle on my bare foot. As I pegged the corner of a pillowcase to the line, jolts of raw, hot pain shot up my leg. I thought I’d been snakebit or struck by lightning, or both.
I looked down to see dozens of ants crawling on my foot and leg, biting viciously. I was standing in a fire ant mound. I did two things: Wet my pants and screamed so loud my next door neighbor ran out of his house.
Staggering to the patio, I started slapping at the ants, which were still biting. David hurdled the chain link fence, yelling, “Don’t mash them! It makes them mad! DON’T MASH THEM!”
He brushed the ants off with a towel and dotted my foot and ankle with Neosporin as I whimpered in shock and pain. There were about 15 bites, which blistered and oozed for days. I was bitter for much longer.
“South Carolina should have warnings about fire ants at every visitors’ center!” I complained to anyone who’d listen. I got no sympathy. Apparently everyone in the state has a stung-by-fire-ants story.
To this day, 23 years later, I won’t go near a fire ant mound. I’d rather tackle the crazy ants from Texas. And, if our armadillos and coyotes are any indication, we won’t have long to wait.
Julie R. Smith, who is suspicious of every ant she sees, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.