As spring flowers and warmer weather reemerge from hibernation once more, so too do droves tawny crazy ants (Nylanderia fulva), or as they're called in much of the South, Rasberry ants -- named for the Houston exterminator Tom Rasberry who first discovered them.
Raspberry and others are expecting a busy spring and summer as the pests awaken and invade homes, businesses, factories and cars in Houston and elsewhere in the Southeast.
Called crazy for their erratic, jerky movements, Rasberry says these ants are so formidable because they are 10,000 times tougher than fire ants and reproduce at alarming rates. In fact, in places where they've invaded, they've quickly outcompeted fire ants for land and resources. Difficult to exterminate, Rasberry says the ants have been known to destroy everything from laptops to gas meters.
"They've gotten into electronic systems in chemical plants and shorted-out equipment that forced the plants to shut down entire units," Rasberry told the French Tribune.
Rasberry ants were first noticed in Houston and other parts of Texas in 2002, but entomologists believe the species probably first arrived in 1930 aboard a cargo ship from South America -- their native territory.
Since then, the crazy ants have spread through most of the Gulf states.
“This is just busting out of the gates right now and making it into the national consciousness,” Neil Tsutsui, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, recently told Scientific American.
Scientists say that though the invasive species can reproduce at frightening speeds, they generally don't travel great distances, advancing only 200 meters per year. But humans unwittingly offer transportation -- in cars and flower pots -- enabling their advance into new and unchartered territory.
If the scourge continues, Rasberry ant checkpoints might be in order.