You may recall hearing about the “crazy ants”, also known as Rasberry ants, last year. They’re apparently gaining a large foothold in Texas and other states, and are threatening honeybees wherever they go.
The range of the so-called Rasberry crazy ant has more than doubled in the past year, creating a swath in 11 counties beginning near Houston and moving north, scientists say.
Given the ant’s encroachment on livestock, hay bales and a few honeybee farms, some are trying to classify it as an agricultural pest, one that must soon be stopped.
“It really is spreading at an alarming rate and we need to do research now,” said Danny McDonald, a Texas A&M University doctoral student who is examining the tiny creature’s biology and ecology. “There’s no time to wait.”
But serious research requires serious dollars.
The Texas Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture will fund in-depth research on the Rasberry crazy ant, but only if it gets the pest classification. And to do that, state officials say more research must be done. It’s a sticky Catch-22.
“This is absolutely idiotic,” said Tom Rasberry, the exterminator for whom the ant is named because he fought against them early on. “If killing honeybees does not put it in the ag pest category I don’t know what does.”
The ants — formally known as “paratrenicha species near pubens” — are called “crazy” because they wander erratically instead of marching in regimented lines. Although they eat stinging fire ants, they also feed on beneficial insects such as ladybugs and honeybees.
The USDA’s Agriculture Research Service recently released about $30,000 for a yearlong study by Texas AgriLife Extension Service and A&M’s Center for Urban & Structural Entomology to determine how quickly the ants are spreading.
“Our folks know this is a very serious issue and we’re jumping on it to make sure we find a solution very quickly,” said Bryan Black, Texas Department of Agriculture spokesman. “We want to protect agriculture and we want to protect the public, absolutely.”
Critics say the initial study won’t address the ant’s food preferences, reproduction cycles, lifespan, temperature tolerance or effect on wildlife.
“There are literally thousands of things we need to find out to get on a fast track, otherwise we’re going to do just like we did with the fire ant and wait until it was too late,” Rasberry warned.
I sure hope that’s not how it goes. If money is an issue I would hope that this is the sort of thing that can get bipartisan cooperation and thus done relatively easily. Who wants to be pro-ant?