Caribbean Crazy Ant


The following excerpts from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on September 21, 2008, By ERIC ERNST accurately describe the Caribbean crazy ant problem.


The reddish-brown ants swarmed everywhere on Gayle and Greg Deas’ five-acre lot east of Interstate 75, near Myakka City. They covered the walkways. They marched along a garden hose in the grass. They coated trees with living masses of movement. When they showed up in the bathtub, Gayle had had enough. She bought a can of bug killer and started spraying the lanai. Within a week, she had filled half of a 5-gallon bucket with dead ants.


It turns out Deas was fighting “Paratrechina pubens,” exotic invaders better known as Caribbean crazy ants. Named for their point of origin and their erratic movement, Caribbean crazy ants do not sting and rarely bite. That’s the good news. The bad news is no one knows how to get rid of them, and there is no concerted effort to study the insects, which have been found in most of Florida.


If they keep multiplying at the current rate, they will be coming soon to a neighborhood near you. The potential is alarming, as Gayle Deas can attest.


“I was embarrassed to have friends come over,” she said. “The entire perimeter, the foundation, it was just crawling.” In the two years since she first saw the ants, the situation has improved, but not much. An exterminator has created a barrier 30 feet from the house. While the insecticide treatments continue, the ants live on one side, the Deas family on the other. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s like another plague,” Deas says. “We can’t get rid of them. And we can’t move. No way could we sell our property.”  Scientists know very little about the ants, although they have pieced together a few biological and behavioral characteristics, mostly from field observations.


Caribbean crazy ants build super colonies. While fire ants live in single mounds of perhaps a couple thousand individuals, Caribbean crazies gather in hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Each nest can have multiple queens.


Often, the nests cannot be found, because the ants seem to forage over great distances. Ants that show up in one yard could be coming from nests as far as a half-mile away, hindering eradication. Carribean crazy ants appear to be protein-feeders, eating other insects, plant juices and the occasional bird hatchling. By their sheer numbers, the Carribean crazies eat or drive out just about every other crawling insect in their territory. That is every beetle, every ant, and every spider.


“What I’ve seen with the Carribean crazy ants beats everything,” says Phil Koehler, professor of entomology at the University of Florida. “You can kill billions of them and not make any headway. You can kill them 3 inches deep and the survivors just move over them.”

Actually, killing them is easy: They succumb to a number of common pesticides, but until research pinpoints their breeding and feeding habits, pest control operators are left with no sure protocols for eradication.


Regarding control, there is no known way of eliminating them outside buildings, but leading entomologists are working on the problem.


NaturZone has been part of a three person task force on the Sarasota County Integrated Pest Management working group that includes entomologists and facility management to test treatment methods on Caribbean crazy ants. We have been able to achieve keeping them out of buildings through a combination of baits and spraying techniques, so we are in the unique position of being on the cutting edge of methods of control.


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