We know carpenter ants can damage the wood in our homes and fire ants pack a painful bite, but there’s another ant taking over that’s causing massive issues. Crazy ants, which get their name from their erratic behavior, are an invasive species that originated in South America. They’re spreading across the South and leaving people puzzled on how to deal with them.

How They Got Here

Image via Flickr by judygva

Like the fire ant invasion in the 1930s, crazy ants likely stowed away on shipping containers by hiding in plywood, hay bales, or potted plants. They were first discovered in 2002 by an exterminator in Texas. Also similar to fire ants, crazy ants have no natural predators here, so their population is starting to boom. Right now, the fire ant is one of the worst invasive species in the world, and damages in Texas alone are estimated at over $1 billion every year, but crazy ants could top that.

Driving Out Other Species

Crazy ants have spread to 27 counties in Texas, but they’re also moving into Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida. This worries ecologists┬ábecause crazy ants swarm in gigantic numbers that overwhelm other species. They engulf songbird nests, overtake beehives and destroy the colony, drive out spiders, and kill off native ant species. Along with this ecological damage, crazy ants will nest in drywall and wood and damage homes and businesses. While their bite is much less toxic than a fire ant’s, the picture of ants swarming up a leg is a nightmare for many.

Destroying Electronics

Not only are crazy ants wrecking the environment and property but they also seem drawn to electronic devices. Exterminators have seen crazy ants take over machinery, outlets, car stereos, laptops, televisions, and have even temporarily closed a chemical plant.

While other ant species are also attracted to electronics, crazy ants swarm in such large numbers that they completely take over the device and destroy it. Exterminator Mike Foshee recalls a time when his air conditioner stopped working, so he decided to clean out the vents in his floor to see if that was the problem. When he finished, he had vacuumed out five gallons of crazy ants.

Unique Protection

Part of the reason crazy ants have been able to take over is because they have a unique protection against the once dominant fire ant. They produce a chemical that they rub on themselves to protect them from fire ant venom. They also spray an acidic substance from where their stinger would be that kills their competition.

What Can Be Done

So far, nature is the best defense against crazy ants. They can’t handle the extreme cold, which keeps them from spreading too far north. Researchers at the University of Texas are studying a fungus that kills crazy ants, and they’re also looking at a phorid fly that is lethal to the ants.

Unpredictable behavior, an attraction to electronics, and the ability to drive out other species make the crazy ant a fitting name for this invasive species.