Science & Tech

Acid-Spewing Crazy Ants Invading the US May Have Met Their Match

Tawny loopy ants are wreaking havoc in locations the place they’re invasive, however scientists have found a brand new solution to battle them utilizing a fungus.

Alex Wild

Here is one other one for the “nature is metal” file. Tawny loopy ants — invasive, acid-spewing bugs from South America — have unfold throughout the southeastern US over the final couple of a long time. They’ve induced injury to houses, pushed out native species and even blinded child bunnies. There is a new hope in the combat towards loopy ants: a fungal pathogen.

A group led by researchers at the College of Texas at Austin printed a examine on a pure fungus in the journal Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Science on Monday. The scientists first found the pathogen in loopy ants in Florida after they discovered spores inside the swollen abdomens of a few of the bugs. The fungus seems to shorten the lives of employee ants.

The fungus, which appears to solely impression loopy ants, can result in the collapse of colonies. “This doesn’t mean crazy ants will disappear,” stated lead creator Edward LeBrun, a specialist in invasive species, in a UT Austin assertion. “It’s impossible to predict how long it will take for the lightning bolt to strike and the pathogen to infect any one crazy ant population. But it’s a big relief because it means these populations appear to have a lifespan.”

Crazy ants are so powerful, they displace fireplace ants by neutralizing fire-ant venom. UT Austin described the species as performing like “an ecological wrecking ball.” They’re just about supervillains in the locations they invade. A New York Instances piece in 2013 revealed how a lot injury they’d induced to homes in Texas — they love electrical tools — and urged they had been driving folks to divorce. And sure, they’ll chew folks, however do not sting.

The researchers examined out the pathogen as a management technique in the Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, Texas, in 2016. LeBrun stated the park’s infestation was “apocalyptic” with “rivers of ants.” The college described the carnage as the ants drove out bugs, scorpions, snakes, lizards and birds, and blinded child rabbits with acid.

The scientists launched contaminated ants to nesting websites in the Texas park and used sizzling canines as a lure to get the populations to mingle. It labored. The fungus unfold and worn out the ants, making the park protected for native species to return.

The group intends to proceed testing the pathogen at different websites in Texas to see if it’ll have related outcomes. It may very well be unhealthy information for the loopy ants, however excellent news for folks and animals affected by the scourge.

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