Fire ants have found a formidable foe in crazy ants

If you think fire ants are a nuisance, you might have another problem if crazy ants takeover your yard.

According to a study done at the University of Texas at Austin and published this week in the journal Science Express, invasive “crazy ants” are rapidly displacing fire ants in areas across the southeastern United States by secreting a compound that neutralizes fire ant venom.

When a crazy ant is smeared with fire ant venom it can detoxify itself.

In lab experiments, crazy ants that were allowed to detoxify themselves had a 98 percent survival rate. This chemical counter-weapon allows crazy ants to take over fire ants nesting sites and food resources.

Watch a video of the process:

Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences saw these two groups in action in the wild. The fire ants found a dead cricket first and were guarding it in large numbers.

“The crazy ants charged into the fire ants, spraying venom,” said LeBrun. “When the crazy ants were dabbed with fire ant venom, they would go off and do this odd behavior where they would curl up their gaster [an ant's modified abdomen] and touch their mouths.”

Crazy ant populations are popping up across the southern U.S. While colonies of crazy ants don’t spread as quickly as fire ants, they are still a concern.

“Crazy ants nest opportunistically in any cavity they can find,” said LeBrun. “That includes things like potted plants, plywood left around, recreational vehicles.People are just moving around these ants like gangbusters.”

Last year, the researchers reported that where crazy ants take hold, the numbers and types of arthropods – insects, spiders, centipedes and crustaceans – decrease, which is likely to have ripple effects on ecosystems by reducing food sources for birds, reptiles and other animals.

LeBrun also warns crazy ants can also move into homes and treatments for them aren’t very effective.

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