Horror-Story Threat: Floating Fire Ant Colonies in Flooded Texas

Fire ants are resilient organisms and quickly adapt to many different environmental circumstances. A flood will not kill them.

Unfortunately for people in a very flooded Texas, this is a problem. Thanks to the hurricane flooding, fire ants that are normally underground are now floating around in seemingly indestructible colonies……and they WILL bite.

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Floating colonies of fire ants, as many as 500,000 in one group, are banding together to stay above water in flood-wracked Houston—and they bite, according to Houstonia magazine, though no one has been bitten yet amid Houston’s flooding. “Floodwaters will not drown fire ants,” Paul R. Nester, a specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, told Houstonia magazine. “Floating fire ant colonies can look like ribbons, streamers, mats, rafts, or an actual ‘ball’ of ants floating on the water.”

Republican Part reports:

The ants flee from their underground homes when floodwaters start rising, and begin to form a loose ball with one another. Then they can ride along the surface of the water until they reach land or another dry space to crawl onto.

Inside the floating colony, no one ant stays submerged for too long as they hold on to one another, forming a buoyant mesh-like structure that also traps air bubbles they can use to breathe, Vox reports. The queen stays safe in the center of the mass, while workers carry larvae in their mouths, even moving some of the immature ants to the bottom of the raft to help it stay afloat. The floating colony stays together until it reaches a dry area or object.

This sounds like something straight out of a horror story! Here’s the science to how they do it:

The same thing happened when South Carolina experienced flooding in 2015, as well as earlier this year in Alabama after Tropical Storm Cindy blew through.

 

If you are ever in a flooded situation and see a floating colony, do not touch it. You will be extremely sorry, as fire ant bites feel exactly how they sound: like you’re on fire.

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Keely Sharp

Keely Sharp

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