‘Crazy Ants’: The ants that destroy electronics march into Georgia

A new ant has marched into the Peach State that can cause unusual issues compared to the typical six-legged insect.

The tawny crazy ant, scientific name nylanderia fulva, can overwhelm environments quickly, travel in massive groups and move in a quick, erratic fashion. They can cause major issues, including ruining electronics, if found close to homes or buildings.

In a study published in April in The Journal of Biological Invasions, it says these tiny, reddish ants can destroy the fire ant communities that Georgians know well.

Although fire ants may form mounds close to homes, they are usually not aggressive unless bothered. Tawny crazy ants, by comparison, may seek household electronics to feed on.

Tawny ants do not sting like fire ants, but use sheer numbers to overwhelm other ant populations.

Ron Harrison, director of technical services for Orkin, said he would not be surprised if the tawny ants survive in Georgia.

“They will displace fire ants,” Harrison said. “They are just so prolific. The whole ground can be moving. I would not be surprised if they can survive in our area.”

University of Georgia agriculture and natural resources county extension agent James Morgan found the ants on Aug. 15 in Albany at an assisted living facility in a vacant duplex and out building.

“I found that they can cause problems. When they’re in the house they can get into wall sockets and short-circuit things,” Morgan said.

The ants are attracted to electrical outlets because of the warmth coming from them, Morgan said. But small electronics aren’t the only things tawny ants enjoy.

“They get into light fixtures, electrical breakers, computers, handheld devices and things like that,” said Joe MacGown, research technician for the Mississippi Entomology Museum. “And in Houston they have even gotten into large equipment in factories, and they have had serious problems in that area.”

But why are they called crazy? Morgan explained: “These ants do have a forging pattern that is sort of similar to Argentine ants, but the trail is a lot looser. They sort of crawl around erratically, hence the name ‘crazy ants,’ ” the extension agent said. “Fire ants build mounds, and these ants don’t build mounds or nest. They have colonies and can have multiple queens.”

Discovered in the U.S. in Texas in 2002, the ants originated from South America and have been known to ruin pastures because of their overwhelming numbers, Morgan said.

“The main thing is that they have superhigh numbers,” MacGown said. “They call them supercolonies. You’re talking about massive populations, and they can affect other wildlife, even small birds and lizards. They just eat everything.”

Although it can’t be certain how these ants found Georgia, Morgan said it is likely the ants have been around longer than he has known about them.

“They could have found their way (on the vehicles of) people who are visiting. Things like humans and equipment; they could hitch a ride that way.”

MacGown said he visited a property in Mississippi where the ants were reported close to a home. Seconds after stepping out of his vehicle, his feet were covered in ants.

“Those people actually ended up moving because they couldn’t get rid of them,” MacGown said.

The good news is that they don’t tend to move to new locations quickly on their own. They move mostly by human means, such as on plants and other items being transported, or in wood that is infested.

Although the ants are a nuisance, MacGown said to be wary if they’re found.

“You really can’t control these on your own, you have to call someone in,” MacGown said. “Don’t let them take off.”

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