The brown crazy ant is a South American native that first appeared in Texas in 2002. Also called Rasberry crazy ant, the species is named after Tom Rasberry, a pest control expert from Pearland who discovered the insects in a chemical facility in Pasadena.
The species, which most likely arrived in the United States on a shipping vessel, fostered itself along the Gulf Coast. Crazy ants are opportunistic nesters, unlike some other ant species that form mounds. They move into preexisting fissures and set up camp, dispersing widely.
Rasberry raised the alarm after observing how swiftly and thoroughly these insects seized an affected area. He read academic papers, contacted state and federal officials, and spoke with any media source that would listen to him about these crazy ants.
In 2010, he told Texas Country Reporter that crazy ants “probably will be the worst insect that we’ve ever had to deal with in this part of the United States.”
The park invasion
In 2014, a swarm of crazy ants landed on Estero Llano Grande State Park and the World Birding Center. Long, brown slabs of them accumulated on paved roads alongside buildings in the park, located just outside of Weslaco, in the Rio Grande Valley.
The ants raced up and down the park’s trees in enormous throbbing streams. They crawled into electric meters and air conditioning equipment, short-circuited the wiring, and eventually spread throughout almost all of the 230 acres of Estero Llano Grande.
These invasive insects displaced native species and caused a lot of damage. Unlike the fire ant, a crazy ant does not sting or bite, but it swarms in great numbers on people’s bodies, causing discomfort. As per Park officials, crazy ants discharge acid from their abdomens, which has blinded and killed several baby birds.
Discovery of the crazy ant’s kryptonite
In 2016, a desperate Texas Parks and Wildlife Department official called Edward LeBrun, an ant ecologist at the University of Texas at Austin, for assistance as crazy ants continued to expand their territory.
It turned out that LeBrun and Robert Plowes, his colleague at Brackenridge Field Laboratory’s Invasive Species Research Program, had just discovered a spectacular breakthrough. Their team had discovered a fungus that appeared to be the crazy ant’s kryptonite.
Rasberry and LeBrun’s team observed the same phenomenon: a colony would grow exponentially and then reach a tipping point when it would begin to decrease suddenly. The colonies would all of a sudden collapse. Crazy ants are still a problem in Houston, but not on the same scale as they were a decade ago.
“Quite frankly, I’m pretty good at knocking out a population,” Rasberry admits. He’s still worried about the ants’ potential to harm local ecosystems, but he’s pleased by recent developments. “Like Mother Nature does, she corrects the problems,” Rasberry explains.
Infestations are largely due to human activity
Invasive organisms, according to LeBrun, are a normal element of the ecosystem. “As long as there’s been a planet Earth, there have been invasive species,” he explains. “It’s just a naturally infrequent process.” He claims that human activity is to blame for accelerating the spread of invasive species to unsustainable levels.