Crazy Ants Replacing Fire Ants

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antsA new predator is invading North America: the crazy ant. Until now, fire ants were the most feared invaders of their kind, producing a notorious sting painful to their victims. It turns out that the crazy ants have the ability to detoxify fire ant venom in a way that that no other insect or animal has been able to before. According to a science news article printed on NYTimes.com, the crazy ant uses its own venom to neutralize the fire ant’s venom.

Crazy ants, or Nylanderia fulva, have been given their name due to a scattershot movement. The ants were first seen in Houston, TX, and then in Florida about 12 years ago, before also being identified in Mississippi and Louisiana. Not only can the crazy ants wipe out their fire ant predecessors; they can dominate an ecosystem quickly.

Dr. LeBrun and colleagues Nathan T. Jones and Lawrence E. Gilbert performed a study and reported the results in the journal Science. The researchers exposed crazy ants to the venom of fire ants and then observed their behavior. The result was a type of intense grooming where they continually appeared to remove their own venom from an abdominal pore before spreading it all over their bodies. Afterwards, 98% of the crazy ants survived. When the pore where the venom was released was blocked, only 48% survived.

Additional tests were performed to show that the ants were, in fact, using their own venom and that the main ingredient, formic acid, was responsible for detoxifying the fire ant venom, although it is still not known the chemical basis for the detoxification.

While the study shows that the crazy ants could be bad news for the fire ants’ survival, it is a matter of opinion as to how it affects humans. Unlike fire ants, crazy ants do not sting. However, they do invade homes, short out power lines and will crawl on people.

Photo from freespiritforlife.com

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