The Planet

Floating Fire Ant Colonies Are Terrifying People In Texas

by Tod Perry

August 29, 2017
Photo by Roby Edrian/Flickr.

Hurricane Harvey has unleashed unimaginable suffering throughout southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. It has submerged America’s fifth-largest metro area, forcing people to live on their rooftops or to wade through waist-high water to get to higher ground. With all of the human tragedy going on, it’s easy to forget that wildlife is in a fight to survive as well. And there’s one species whose survival techniques are freaking everyone out: fire ants.

For the uninitiated, the fire ant scene was one of the few memorable moments in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” 

 

Fire ants live underground but floodwaters have forced them above ground to avoid drowning. To survive, these super-smart ants bond together in floating colonies on the search for dry land. The ants use hooks on their limbs to attach to one another, while forming a ball in the center of the colony to protect eggs, larvae, and the queen. Worker ants submerged beneath the colony trade places with those above to prevent drowning. 

Should you come in contact with one of these floating horror shows, avoid it at all costs. “If one of those rafts comes in contact with you, or you try to break it apart, it will likely disperse and crawl up you,” Tim Davis, Clemson entomologist, told USA Today. Fire ant bites are painful, itchy, and can hurt for up to a week, but they aren’t dangerous unless you’re allergic, in which case, they can be fatal. 

If you, your home, or pets are threatened by these beasts, there is a way to fight them off. Drench the floating ant-raft with soapy water. This dries their waxy coats, dissolving the bond that helps keep them attached. The raft will slowly fall apart and the ants will drown. Left alone, fire ant colonies can survive atop water for up to two weeks.

Share image from Mike Hixenbaugh/Twitter.

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Floating Fire Ant Colonies Are Terrifying People In Texas