[Entomology Watch] What’s in a Name? For the Crazy Ant, a Lot

Supporters hope the new common name will reduce confusion; detractors say that’s not going to happen.

When it comes to crazy ants, pest management professionals have had more names for the pest than control options.

But that has changed.

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) recently voted on a proposed new common name for the ant — as of April 16, 2013, “tawny crazy ant” is the official common name for Nylanderia fulva. This name will replace hairy, invasive, brown, Caribbean and Rasberry monikers.

This doesn’t sit well with Tom Rasberry, who drew attention to the pest in Texas in 2002. Rasberry is an Associate Certified Entomologist and owner of Rasberry’s Pest Professionals in Pearland, Texas.

“There are millions of people who already know it as a Rasberry crazy ant,” said Rasberry. Changing the common name makes it “more confusing for the general public and the PCOs.”

Roger Gold, entomologist at Texas A&M University, agreed. “Tawny is so neutral. It doesn’t really have any meaning.”

Tawny is a yellow-brown color, but “many ants are that color,” Gold explained. If the common name doesn’t differentiate the pest, “it’s not a convenience to anyone.”

David Oi, a research entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, submitted the proposal and says the new name is necessary to end confusion about the Gulf Coast pest. Current common names are uninformative or based on the assumption the ant is Nylanderia pubens, he wrote to ESA.

Early Confusion.
Part of the confusion stems from early misidentification of this ant.

Entomologists originally thought the ant was Nylanderia pubens, found in Florida but not seen for some time, said Oi.

New studies show the Caribbean, hairy and Rasberry crazy ants are actually Nylanderia fulva.

Scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and Towson University in Maryland examined morphological characteristics and DNA from crazy ants collected in Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and found they are a single species originating in South America. Lead researcher Dietrich Gotzek submitted the name proposal to ESA with Oi.

Nylanderia fulva doesn’t have an official common name. “When we finally figured out it was fulva, we thought it’d be simpler to give it a new common name that refers to fulva,” said Oi.

Fulva means tawny in Latin. It makes sense, said Oi, to have a connection to the ant’s scientific name, even if the ant varies in color. It’s also important to stop using names associated with N. pubens.

Rasberry isn’t convinced the Rasberry crazy ant is N. fulva, though it is closer. “We knew very early on it was not the pubens,” said Rasberry, who has spent more than 2,000 hours researching the ant, according to his website. “We had the facts way back in 2004.”

The people leading the name change have misidentified the ant until recently, he said. “What gives them the right,” to change the name, he asked. “All I know is they’ve been wrong since day one.”

Why not call it Rasberry crazy ant? Rasberry is not an apt descriptor of the ant, Rasberry recalled being told by scientists.

Got Crazy?

According to Texas A&M University, suspect tawny crazy ants (also known as hairy, invasive, brown, Caribbean and Rasberry crazy ants) if you see many ants with the following characteristics:

  • Appearance of many (millions) of uniformly sized 1/8 inch long, reddish-brown ants in the landscape; foraging occurs indoors from outdoor nests.
  • Ants that form loose foraging trails, as well as forage randomly (non-trailing) and crawl rapidly and erratically (hence the description “crazy” ant).
  • Ant colonies (where queens with brood including whitish larvae and pupae) occur under landscape objects like rocks, timbers, piles of debris, etc. These ants do not build centralized nests, beds or mounds, and do not emerge to the surface from nests through central openings.
  • Under a microscope you find 12-segmented antennae, a petiole (1 node), an acidopore (circle of hairs at the tip of the gaster, or abdomen), and the ant is covered withmany hairs (macrosetae). Winged males are needed for identification to species (Gotzek et al. 2012).

View images and videos of tawny crazy ants at http://urbanentomology.tamu.edu/ants/rasberry.html.


In his “Insects in the City” blog, Texas AgriLife Extension Entomology Specialist Mike Merchant said friends of Rasberry wanted Rasberry crazy ant as the official name because it’s been used the longest and it honors the person who pointed it out to entomologists in Texas.

But others find the name confusing if they don’t know Rasberry’s story, think it’s a berry pest, or have used a different name for the ant over the years. Caribbean crazy ant is used in Florida; hairy crazy ant in Louisiana.

As for the word, tawny, people will ask what it means if they don’t know, said Oi. “Slowly, I think it will be accepted, assuming there’s no big push back” from ESA membership, Oi said.

Rules Are Rules.
ESA has had strict guidelines to assure the uniformity of common insect names since 1903. While scientific names may carry the name of a person, common names usually do not.

The Nov. 23 submission for tawny crazy ant was “well written and thought out,” said ESA Common Names Committee Chair Greg Dahlem, entomologist at Northern Kentucky University. It included a summary of the ant’s common names, and comments from ant specialists and pest management experts both for and against the tawny name.

A comment period for ESA members ended March 13 and resulted in support and opposition for the name, said Dahlem. In April, the ESA Governing Board accepted “tawny crazy ant” as the official common name. In the past two years, the board has both accepted and rejected committee-approved names, Dahlem said.

With tawny crazy ant the pest’s official common name, it will be used in all ESA-published journals.

But these discussions have nothing to do with solving the problems caused by this ant, said Gold. A “tremendous amount of time and energy” has gone into the name issue “but we still don’t control it very well.”

With 10 years of use, Rasberry crazy ant likely will remain the name of choice in Texas. It “won’t ever go away, not in my lifetime, anyway,” said Rasberry, who says the move is political. “They’re adamant about getting my name away from this ant.”

Oi says the tawny name will make things easier going forward, especially with various crazy ant names being used in the media. “I think it needs to be done,” he said.

Gold will accept what the scientific community has decided. The new name will become part of the lexicon and the old name will “fade into infamy.”


Ant Control Tips

Ants are the No. 1 reason homeowners call a pest management professional, accounting for more new customer calls than any other pest. But since ants are difficult to control because of their complex social structures, foraging habits and nomadic nesting tendencies, ant-related calls also account for a high number of callbacks.

Understanding the unique challenges involved in controlling ants — as well as understanding why, how and when to use specific products — can help you transform a one-time call into a longstanding, satisfied customer.

Using a variety of products to control ants inside and outside takes advantage of distinct ant biology and social behaviors. Integrating several layers of treatment can be useful in attacking ants in ways that address symptoms, control the source and help to prevent future re-infestations.

Before applying a treatment, gather as much information as you can during the initial inspection, including:

  • Locations of ant activity
  • Identity of ant species
  • Nest locations, if possible
  • Conditions conducive to ant activity

Using a layered approach, start on the exterior of the structure. Use an ant-control product to create a barrier around the affected structure. Be especially careful to treat the joint where exterior siding meets the cement block or brick foundation and areas where any wires (electrical, cable or telephone) enter the house. Also remember to spray the width around doors, windows, vents, pipes or any other exterior opening where ants could enter the structure.

Next, focus on exterior off-structure sites that are likely to foster growing ant populations. These sites include garbage areas, planting beds, trees and overgrown or cluttered areas. Use either a long-lasting residual insecticide or a granular ant bait to treat these sites. Ants usually prefer to crawl along structural lines when trailing, so make sure to treat edges of sidewalks, driveways, garden borders and fences.

Finally, deal with ants indoors by using a spot and void treatment of a nonrepellent insecticide. Nonrepellent products won’t trap ants inside or disrupt their normal activities, or interfere with their movement through the treatment zone. If using ant baits indoors, place baits near ant trails but in areas where increased ant activity won’t be a problem for the customer. Areas such as attics, basements and crawlspaces are great placement choices for baiting.

Termidor termiticide/insecticide and Alpine WSG Water Soluble Granule Insecticide are products that can help address the special challenges of controlling ants, and be used in tandem for a layered control approach. With its unique “Transfer Effect,” Termidor creates a treated zone of protection around the home. Alpine WSG is proven to control ants inside the house. Its flexible label allows surface applications and broadcast treatments, and its nonrepellent formulation is perfect for indoor treatments, BASF says.

For more information on ant control tips, visit BASF Pest Control Solutions SmartSolutions for Ants: http://bit.ly/BASFSSAnts.

(Source: BASF Pest Control Solutions)


The author is a Chicago-Ill.-based freelance writer. She can be reached at anagro@giemedia.com.

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