Scientists plan to deploy killer fungus at selected sites in Texas to fight invasive crazy ants

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The tawny crazy ant, also known as the raspberry crazy ant, is an invasive species that was brought to the U.S. from Argentina and Brazil via ships. It was first found in Houston in 2002 and since spread across Texas, driving out native insects and small animals and causing major headaches for homeowners.

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have found that infection by a naturally occurring fungal pathogen causes the population of crazy ants to collapse to local extinction. Edward LeBrun, a research scientist with the Texas Invasive Species Research Program who was part of the study said:

I think it has a lot of potential for the protection of sensitive habitats with endangered species or areas of high conservation value. This doesn’t mean crazy ants will disappear. It’s impossible to predict how long it will take for the lightning bolt to strike and the pathogen to infect any one crazy ant population. But it’s a big relief because it means these populations appear to have a lifespan.

The study found that ant colonies collapsed because the fungal pathogen shortened the lifespan of worker ants, making it hard for the population to survive through winter.

The researchers plan to test the new biocontrol approach in other environmentally-sensitive Texas habitats infested with crazy ants this spring.

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