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The Terrifying Way Fire Ants Beat Floods

30 Aug 2017, 3:37 pm

I was eating when I wrote this and from experience, I recommend you put down the fork before continuing.

The topic we are about to dive into is creepy and crawly and even a rather unique form of migration.

Fire Ants

You know the tiny little red ones that can ruin any sandal-donning southerner’s day from Texas to Maryland. Well, it turns out those little nuisances are just that, nuisances. You see, these little buggers aren’t native to the south, nor the U.S. for that matter. They were introduced to the region in the 1930s thanks to some unregulated shipments from South America and now an estimated $5 billion is spent trying to control them every year!

So they’re everywhere.

The full name of these unwanted imports is actually Red Imported Fire Ant. It basically sums up the fact that they weren’t always here. But coming from an area with a very similar climate, this invasive species has done quite well for itself. In fact flooding is actually one of the ways fire ants move as a colony.

Ant Raft

Don’t ask me how they learned this, but during a flood, the entire colony of ants will group together into a giant (relatively) raft. Grouping turns them into a raft able to stay together and on top of the devastating flood waters. The ants then use this raft to travel to new and even formerly unreachable locations.

Fire ants have a waxy body– which does an excellent job repelling water. By clumping together around the queen, a portion of the ants remain above water. And a simple bit of movement allows the ants underwater to trade places for some fresh air and colony survival.

These ants actually love the water. It allows them to spread out and take over new areas, helping ensure longevity of the spreading species.

How to Destroy the Raft

The bigger the flood, the bigger the raft.
The greater the flood plain, the more colonies that fall under the water. Once floating, the separate colonies will bunch together as a way to better the odds of survival.

There are a few ways to approach these ant rafts.

  1. Do Nothing
    That’s right. These guys only go on the offensive when you get up in their business, so if you can– just leave them alone!
  2. Direct the Raft Away
    Without touching it, simply push the raft away. Use waves or current to do so, because anything they touch they will cling to.
  3. Dawn
    The dish soap. Go to the sink and get out that baby seal-cleaning, dish-scrubbing miracle and hit the flood waters.
    The somewhat environmentally friendly (compared to insecticides) breaks the surface tension of the raft— effectively drowning the colony in a horrible feat of ant cruelty.

For WeatherNation — Meteorologist Jeremy LaGoo

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