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article imageReal-Life Superbug Taking Over Texas Coast: The Crazy Rasberry Ant

By Nikki Weingartner     May 20, 2008 in Environment
Like a 1960's horror movie, a new species of ant has invaded the United States and with no known enemies or effective chemical pesticides, the "Crazy Rasberry Ant" continues to multipy at an alarming rate. Bring in the pets and lock your doors.
In 2002, Thomas Rasberry, an exterminator from Pasadena, Texas answered a call like any other call: get rid of these ants. Texas, known for its Imported Fire Ant, or more commonly called the "fire ant", which entered the United States back in the 1930s via the ports of Mobile, Alabama, is no stranger to ant infestations.
But what Tomas Rasberry wasn't expecting was an alien creature that would be his future name sake.
Video on Crazy Rasberry Ant
Although it has several names, some considered inappropriate for the general public, this new, and unknown species of ant is still confusing entimologists today. Labeled as Paratrechina pubens, the "crazy rasberry ant" for which it is more commonly in Texas, is wreaking havoc on state homeowners and business owners alike. (See Pictures)
At just 1/8 of an inch in length, or just over .3 cm, the crazy rasberry ant is seemingly harmless in that it isn't known for biting humans or stinging, unlike the painful sting of the fire ant that leaves pimple-like sores on the skin. As a fire ant attacks en masse, the crazy rasberry ant is more of a nuisance in that it simply covers the body.
So whats the problem?
According to a story in the New York Times, the tiny critters are taking over the coastal bend of Texas at a rate of half a mile a year. They have already infested five counties in the Houston area and with multi-queen nests, experts say these newbies show no signs of stopping.
“I sprayed some pesticide just to knock them down,” Mr. Rasberry recalled on Thursday. “But the next year I went from seeing a couple thousand to millions of them.”
Unlike the fire ant, who builds its mount in the soft Texas soil, this prolific creature is unbiased with regards to its living conditions and is being found under every rock, tree branch, in trash cans, electrical outlet and in pool motors. They forage without pattern, hence the name "crazy". Diane Yeo, a homeowner in Pearland, Tx. said “We call them running ants”, in regards to the erratic behavior associated with the ants.
This new species of ant is actually eating the fire ants, killing them off and out-competing with the others for food sources. They are also competing for food sources with healthy insects and animals, creating problems with crops and other animals and insects. If that weren't enough, the crazy rasberry ant isn't just an herbivore, as its enjoys a meal of other insects and small invertebrates as well.
The crazy rasberry ant is creating major problems for homeowners in that they are destroying electrical wiring, shorting out motors and electricity. Pool motors, electrical gates and wells have had to be replaced due to the extensive damage caused by these creatures.
Texas A&M University's Texas AgriLife Extension Service program specialist, Paul Nester, whose group is currently studying the unique and unnamed species, says of the ants that “They’re the ant of all ants". Although TAMU continues to research the pests, it doesn't help homeowners with the ongoing damage or discomfort they are experiencing in the meantime.
Even exterminators are unable to kill the beasts and the only real means of keeping them under control can run up to $600 USD per treatment. That is a substantial cost increase from the average $85 USD charge for pest control with the results for the more expensive version being grim at best in that the results often leave the customers dissatisfied.
Besides being expensive, the treatment is not directly accessible to consumers, and its buffering effects are only good for up to 90 days.
For now, the real life "superbug" continues to reproduce and infest the Texas coastal communities at an alarming rate. The colony growth has airports and even the Johnson Space Center on alert as far as potential damage and problems. Some world leaders have gotten wind of this crazy ant's capabilities and have expressed their concern:
A spokesperson for the Houston Mayor, Bill White: “The Russians are concerned,” Mr. Michel said. “I got a call from Moscow wanting to know if NASA was safe.”
“I reassured the Russians we’re O.K.,” he said.
Could this chemical resistant species, which possesses impressive proliferation capabilities and expanding at an amazing growth rate pose a threat to the United States?
A question to ponder, indeed.
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