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Honeybees face new threat in Texas: "Crazy" ants

crazy ants attack honeybeesViruses, grueling journeys, monoculture diets. U.S. honeybees have had it rough lately, and millions have perished from the mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD). But now some of the nation's bees have a new threat to contend with: ants. And not just any ants. These ants are crazy—Rasberry crazy ants (Paratrenicha species near pubens), to be precise.

Named for their helter-skelter scamper, which contrasts with most ants' standard rank-and-file march, the tiny, invasive ants were first noticed in near Houston in 2002 and have been destroying electronics, pestering picnickers, and gunking up sewage pumps ever since. And now they have started to go after local honeybee hives, according to a recent Associated Press report.

Beekeepers say the omnivorous ants swarming the hives appear to be less interested in the sweet honey inside than they are in the bee larvae there. And once a hive is decimated, the ants will take over and use it to raise their own young. One beekeeper reported that the ants had destroyed about 100 of his hives in the past year. Aside from the crops they help to pollinate, the bees also produce about 4.9 million pounds of honey a year, the AP said.

But these insidious ants have yet to gain state recognition as agricultural pests, which would free up more money for research into their lifecycles and biology. But in order to gain that title, the Texas and U.S. departments of agriculture require more study. And many feel that time is of the essence.

"This is absolutely idiotic," Tom Rasberry, an exterminator and the ants' namesake, told the wire service. "If killing honeybees does not put it in the ag pest category, I don’t know what does."

These ants are on the march—or scatter, as it were. Local researchers note that they are spreading north at a good clip and are now found in more than 10 Texas counties. They're easily transported accidentally through trash and plant material, according to the information on the University of Texas A&M Center for Urban & Structural Entomology Web site. Bees and electronics don't seem to be the only targets of these crazy ants. They also appear to have a taste for everything from ladybugs to fire ants. But even the experts are frustrated by the lack of knowledge about these new nuisances.

"There are literally thousands of things we need to find out," Rasberry said, "otherwise we're going to do just like we did with the fire ant and wait until it was too late."

Image courtesy of BaylorBear78 via Flickr

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