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"Why Those Floating Fire Ant Colonies in Texas Are ..." Topic

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230 hits since 31 Aug 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0131 Aug 2017 3:18 p.m. PST

…Such Bad News.

"Ants didn't take over the world by being stupid and cowardly. Case in point: Rafts of fire ants have been spotted floating around floodwaters in Houston, Texas, colonies banding together to weather super-storm Harvey.

If your first thought was Please, no, you're human, and that's fine. Fire ants are an invasive species¯they arrived in Texas in the 1950s to menace crops and native species alike. And floods like this have a habit of spreading the ants around even faster than their legs can carry them. But if you can, put aside for a moment your terror at the prospect of self-assembling arks of stinging ants and dive into this fascinating manifestation of problem solving in social insects.

Fire ants make their home in the ground, which makes the insects extremely vulnerable to flooding. But should they detect something awry, the workers start linking together using hooks on their limbs. They form into a ball with the vulnerable members of the colony—eggs and larvae and the queen—bundled up in the center.

"They use the wax together on their bodies to keep the queen and other members of the colony in the middle of the ball dry so they don't suffocate," says Mike Merchant, entomology specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. And submerged workers from time to time shift above the water line so they don't drown. (The species evolved in the Amazon, so this clever rafting adaptation allowed them to survive periodic flooding.)…"

They'll float like this until they hit something dry¯a log or rock or, heaven forbid, your home. "The unfortunate thing is they don't care what it is that's dry," says Wizzie Brown, extension program specialist also at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. "So if it's a house that they hit and there are people on the roof stranded, they will go up there as well because that's them trying to escape the flood waters."
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jdpintex31 Aug 2017 4:04 p.m. PST

Yep, they're not fun. Something all newbies to Texas usually learn the hard way. But I've never met anyone that needed more than one experience to learn that lesson

Personal logo Cacique Caribe Supporting Member of TMP31 Aug 2017 7:26 p.m. PST

I waded through a few "iffy" areas during the rain both Sat and Sun. Thankfully, because the rain built up over the space of a couple of days the ants found alternate places to move into before and didn't have to resort to making rafts.

While I looked out our front window, I did see a squirrel that apparently found some fire ants high up on an oak tree take a dive 25 feet down to the floowater. He came out of the water after a few seconds and started scratching like crazy. He did not look happy at all.


Personal logo T Callahan Supporting Member of TMP31 Aug 2017 7:48 p.m. PST

Soapy water sprayed on the mat breaks the cohesive tension and they sink and drown.

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