TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County is partnering with the University of Texas at Austin to evaluate a pathogen as a biological control agent for tawny crazy ants.
The invasive ants, dubbed crazy because of their quick and erratic movements, can threaten your yards and get into your home. They also threaten songbirds and some endangered species by disrupting the food chain.
Researchers at UT will introduce the microsporidian pathogen by inoculating tawny crazy ant colonies. In prior research, experts found the pathogen may significantly reduce TCA populations.
Travis County will pay $25,300 for the research.
Insect experts estimate crazy ants, a species from South America, have been in Central Texas for at least 10 years. The heaviest population in Travis County is in southwest Austin by Convict Hill Road and State Highway 71.
Crazy ants have also been spotted in Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in Marble Falls and in Williamson County.
“We had a bunch of pots right here and I found Tawny Crazy Ants living in one of the pots that had soil and plants in it,” explains Wizzie Brown, showing the spot in her Round Rock backyard.
Brown knew just what to do. “I took boiling water and dumped on the pot to kill all the ants that were there.”
Brown is an insect expert with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service. She says crazy ants can sneak up on you — they don’t create mounds like fire ants.
“They need stuff to nest under or in, so a lot of times if you see brush like this laying on the ground, they’ll get under there because it’s a protected space,” said Brown.
Brown suggests you pick up as much stuff off the ground as possible to get rid of those nesting opportunities. If you want to make sure the ants don’t get inside of your home you can block off little openings or crevices, called weep holes, in the brick or stone of your home.
“You can block that off with, sometimes people use steel wool but that can rust if it gets wet so we recommend copper mesh or even like the green scrubby pads you use in the kitchen,” said Brown.
You’ll also want to plug up any water leaks to keep the bugs at bay, whether it’s from your AC unit or a garden hose. If the ants get inside, you may find yourself with electrical problems. “We’ve had reports of them shorting out well pumps, pool pumps, air conditioning units,” explains Brown.
Brown also says you can put pesticide around the outside of your house, doors and windows to keep the tiny intruders out.
Crazy ants can bite, but they don’t sting like fire ants, so you may not even realize you’ve been bitten by one. Crazy ants can actually deter fire ants from an area.