I once had an aunt the family charitably called “eccentric.” She kept 30 or so cats in a “kitty motel” behind her house, named some of them after Confederate generals, lived like a bag lady and left $1 million in cash, stock and land to the local Methodist church.
At least she did not leave it to the cats.
This time I am writing about ants — the ones that run about so helter-skelter that folks call ’em “crazy.”
Despite my careful attention to current events, I had not heard of “crazy” ants until my buddy Greg, up in Kentucky, sent me an article from Life Science magazine. (Greg is a physician, so reading Life Science comes natural.). The headline screamed the news.
“ ‘Crazy’ Ants Driving Out Fire Ants in Southeast”
My first reaction was to look at the bright side. Anything that drives out fire ants can’t be all bad.
I hate fire ants. Although preachers with Calvinist leanings tell me that the Lord God of Hosts has a great design in which everyone and everything has a place, I’d sure like to know where fire ants fit into His plan. Maybe they are just there to remind us that even the Almighty can have a bad day.
But rather than get all theological on you, I will turn my attention to the “crazy” ants that are driving out the fire ants.
I am one of those folks who is old enough to remember when there were no fire ants except down in the Mobile area, where they arrived from South America in the 1940s. (I can also remember when there were no armadillos east of the Mississippi River, but now I am getting off the subject.)
Back to “crazy” ants.
They are native to northern Argentina, southern Brazil and Houston, where they showed up in 2002. Now they are moving along the Gulf Coast.
Driving out fire ants.
And folks who live where the fire ants have been driven out want the fire ants back.
Because, according to Edward LeBrun, the go-to guy on fire ants at the University of Texas, “fire ants are in many ways very polite. They live in your yard. They form mounds and stay there, and they only interact with you if you step on their mounds.”
I never thought of it that way. Almost makes me ashamed for hating them. Almost.
On the other hand, “crazy” ants go everywhere. They invite themselves into your house, nest in the walls and crawlspaces and have even been known to swarm inside electrical appliances and damage them. Although their sting is not as painful as that of fire ants, they are harder to control. They are promiscuous and prolific, and if it wasn’t for the fact that they don’t spread as quickly as fire ants, they would be everywhere and the fire ants would be no more.
So, you are surely asking, how do the “crazy” ants do it? How are they able to accomplish what decades of fire ant eradication efforts have failed to pull off?
We don’t know.
So far, the “crazy” ants have kept the secret to their success, well, secret. The “crazy” ants appear and next thing you know, the fire ants are gone.
So, naturally, researchers are out there researching to find out what the “crazies” are doing to get the job done. Meanwhile. other researchers are out there researching to find out how we can get rid of the “crazies” after they have gotten rid of the fire ants.
Researching ants is a growth industry. Maybe I should tell my son to switch to that. Do they have an “ant research” major at Auburn?
But I digress.
Although “crazy” ants do not move far fast, they are survivors. Poison that kills fire ants hardly fazes the “crazies.” And I’ll be willing to bet that the folk remedies that supposedly get rid of fire ants — club soda in the mound, grits followed by water (they eat the grits, then drink the water, the grits swells and the ants blow up) — would have no effect, either.
Do these remedies have any effect on any ant? There’s another research topic for an enterprising young scientist. Get some funding from the grits industry and go at it.
But even as all this research moves forward, we have to deal with another invasive species, a critter that should not be here but is.
And if you doubt me, or Greg, or Life Science, let me add that Fox News also confirms this (foxnews.com/science/2013/05/20/crazy-ants-driving-out-fire-ant), and if it is on Fox, you know it’s gotta be right.
So this is my advice to you.
If you see a “crazy” ant, squish it.
And start looking for more.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.