People battling flooding and destruction in Texas after Tropical Storm Harvey face yet another hazard: fire ants. Photos on social media show patches of ants floating together through floodwaters – and though this behavior isn’t entirely unheard-of, the insects are said to be naturally aggressive and have caused alarm among locals.
Floating rafts of fire ants could pose a new threat to people struggling in the aftermath of Harvey around Houston. Fire ants are native to South America, coming from floodplains near the Paraguay River, so they already know how to handle waters. They form a large raft with their bodies, with ants on the bottom keeping the ones on top dry, and air pockets between the them allow the whole thing to float. Larvae and the queen are kept dry on the very top.
The ants came to the United States back in the 1930’s, and have also made their way to China, Australia, and Taiwan, where they are described as an invasive species. According to The Guardian, the fire ants are extremely aggressive – they will sometimes attack as a group. They can sting people, and in some cases the sting can lead to a secondary infection. Allergic reactions have even led to death – potentially causing dozens of deaths in America.
Louisiana entomologist Linda Bui has also conducted research that suggests fire ants release higher venom doses and become more defensive during floods.
Entomologists observed similar raft behavior from fire ants in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But photos of the ants banding together in Houston have understandably led to panic, such as one dramatic image of a huge swarm in Cuero, southwest of Houston. University of Texas curator of etymology Alex Wild said he’d never seen anything like the swarm in Cuero during his entire career researching ants.
Via The Guardian