A Mobile County homeowner compares her uninvited guests to a scene from a horror movie.
“There are hundreds of them — probably millions — and they get everywhere,” said Grace Talbert of Theodore as she scooped up a handful of dead ants. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like an Alfred Hitchcock movie.”
Local Extension System personnel, with the help of Auburn University’s L. C. ‘Fudd’ Graham, Ph.D. and Charles Ray, Ph.D., identified the prolific pests as Alabama’s first infestation of Tawny Crazy Ants.
Already confirmed in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida, Tawny Crazy Ants are native to South America. They have no natural predators in North America, said Graham of AU’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. The ants reproduce rapidly with multiple queens in every colony and are named for their fast, erratic walk.
Talbert can testify to their virility.
“They don’t sting, but there are so many of them,” Talbert said. “They don’t go in a straight line like most ants I’ve seen.”
Extension Horticulturist Jeremy Pickens said little is known about the ants, noting there are concerns about possible destruction of wildlife. They also cause electrical motors in homes, cars and other machines to short out.
Pickens described Mobile County as the nursery capital of the Southeast. He said most growers already treat flowers, shrubs, trees and sod for fire ants to prevent spreading. It’s believed those same treatments will control Tawny Crazy Ants, but more research is needed, Graham said.
“We’re worried these ants could get into neighborhoods,” he said. “In addition to the cost of controlling them and the potential use of large amounts of pesticides, it could hurt the market for our horticulture industry. We want homeowners and horticulture producers to be aware the ants are here. There is some evidence infestations can spread by cars.”
Talbert and her 90-year-old father, Paul Thompson, have a house and about six acres. It’s a wooded oasis nestled between an industrial area and the Theodore Ship Channel joining Mobile Bay. Scientists suspect the ants entered Alabama and other coastal states on ships.
“Right now, we believe Ms. Talbert’s place is the only location,” Graham said. “We’re doing everything we can to help control them with pesticides and cultural control methods.”
Talbert has been clearing her property of tree limbs, leaves and other moist areas that attract the ants. But they keep coming.
“I appreciate help from the Extension System, but so far nothing seems to really work,” she said. “At least we’ve managed to keep them out of the house. I’ve swept up buckets of dead ants around our doorway. It’s unbelievable.”
Fudd said anyone suspecting an infestation of Tawny Crazy Ants should contact their local Extension agent.