MSU Researchers Continue to Study, Monitor Tawny Crazy Ants

MSU Researchers Continue to Study, Monitor Tawny Crazy Ants

The team at Mississippi State University has been implementing a multi-pronged approach to monitor these pests.

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August 14, 2017
Research Targeting Ants, Sponsored by Rockwell Labs

(Photo: Worker ants with brood in Hancock County. Photo: Blake Layton)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University researchers are continuing to study a “crazy” creature found in Mississippi’s coastal counties.

The tawny crazy ant, also known as Nylanderia fulva, is a non-native ant species that has been found in the southern United States, including Hancock, Jackson and Harrison counties in Mississippi. The ants are not widely distributed on the Mississippi gulf coast, but their presence can be overwhelming in areas that contain a crazy ant population, according to MSU researchers who study and monitor the ants. 

Blake Layton, an extension professor in MSU’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, has been developing guidelines to help homeowners deal with heavily infested areas, which can contain millions of ants, and prevent new populations from forming.

“When I go visit homeowners, I’ll ask them if they’ve had an electrical short,” Layton said. “They don’t just say they’ve had one; they start naming the last half dozen they’ve experienced. That’s the real problem with these things.”

The tawny crazy ant was first documented in Hancock County in 2009, with infestations first recorded in Jackson County in 2010 and in Harrison County in 2012. In addition to Mississippi, crazy ants have been reported in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Researchers at MSU, including those with the MSU Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, are collaborating with other southern universities to study the crazy ant and track its movement across the southeast United States.

“Everybody combines what they have, but the first step is knowing what populations are really crazy ants and seeing how they’re spreading,” said Joe MacGown, research technician/science illustrator in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology. “My role is providing information to other people. We provide specimens to other researchers who may be doing genetic or chemical work, trying to figure out ways to control these things.”

Tawny crazy ants are known for their erratic movements when foraging, which helped give them their common name. They are often confused with the Argentine ant, known to most as “sugar ants.” The crazy ant came to the United States from South America and has been causing issues in Texas and Florida for more than ten years. 

MSU Extension agents on the coast help monitor the spread of crazy ants in Mississippi. Although they are easy to kill, the ants are difficult to control because of their massive scale, according to Layton. Treated areas are often quickly re-infested by ants migrating from adjacent untreated areas. The surviving ones can travel over the large swath of dead ant bodies without contacting insecticide treated surfaces.

More information on the tawny crazy ant can be found at http://www.mississippientomologicalmuseum.org.msstate.edu/Researchtaxapages/Formicidaepages/genericpages/Nylanderia_fulva.htm#.WLcgfjvytaQ. Layton’s control recommendations can be found at https://extension.msstate.edu/sites/default/files/topic-files/household-insects/tawny_crazy_ant_control_recommendations.pdf