By Silvia Pera
CARNEGIE VANGUARD HIGH SCHOOL
Tom Rasberry, a local pest control specialist, has dedicated much of his career to preventing the spread of a species of ants he himself discovered in 2002.
“The first time I saw them I wasn’t really suspicious. The second time I saw them, it went from one year we had one small hill that we saw initially and then the next year we had literally hundreds of billions,” said Tom Rasberry.
The ants are known as Rasberry ants or crazy ants and have been spotted all along the Gulf Coast, in 26 counties and from Texas to Florida, “spreading at a massive rate.” The ants look like fire ants but they have no stinger and seem to have a different crosshair pattern.
“The bigger issue is they displace and kill of most of the other species on a property. They’ll go so far as pretty much eradicate the fire ant population on a beach property,” said Rasberry.
About three years ago the Sims Bayou Urban Nature Center in Southeast Houston was plagued by a similar ant species.
“We had a different species of Caribbean crazy ants. It totally infested our entire property, indoors and in the building. Every time you would turn on a faucet, they would pour out of the faucet, they would pour out of the toilet. It was like living in a nightmare,” said Mary Anne Weber, the Education Director at the center.
Rasberry was called in and managed to clear the property within a week before the ants could disrupt the ecosystem.
Rasberry points to the incident as just one example of the expansive spread and impact the ants can have on Houston and the surrounding areas.
“They’re in pockets right now. They are carrying into all the areas they’re not in right now. The medical center is getting some populations built up. They do have them there and probably within the year or next year they’ll start seeing some pretty heavy populations. But they haven’t had the time to fill in all the gaps in between the infestations. That’s just (going) to take some time,” said Rasberry.
Although there has been some speculation that the Rasberry crazy ants are attracted to electricity, Paul Nester, a local program extension specialist of AgriLife and a fire ant specialist is less easily convinced.
“The theory is that the ants are attracted to a hub of warmth. One ant will go to the electrical device and be electrocuted. When an ant is electrocuted it lets off its pheromones which attract more ants. Once a lot of ants gather there, they will short the circuit. They can also build mounds with water inside which will short the entire circuit,” he said.
Rasberry, has turned to several government agencies for help including the state government, whom he criticized for doing nothing.
“I’m actually on the Invasive Species Committee and Louisiana Invasive Species Committee. We tried that, that really didn’t get any leg. It was more of a cosmetic thing for the state and federal government,” he added.
Rasberry has also begun conducting seminars to inform local pest control specialists of the ants. Several years ago, Norbert Solomon, owner of Termicure Pest Control, attended but he complained that no specific treatments were proposed.
“We have been getting a lot of calls about ants. We don’t know if they’re Rasberry ants, we get over there and we see that they are Rasberry ants. We’re doing our best to control them, but not every company knows how to. Unfortunately nobody there could give us a treatment. My company has developed something that so far has worked,” said Solomon who declined to go into detail about the product.
Although many in Houston have yet to be affected, Solomon points to their multiplication rates as a reason for their rapid expansion.
“The other ants, when you spray and kill them, they go away. But these ones because they are so hard to control, I would compare them to zombies. When you think you’ve got them they come back.”