In drought-weary Houston, recent rainstorms have been a welcome sight. But with that watery relief has come the resurgence of a familiar Texas foe — ants. Even with the cooler fall weather, fresh mounds dot every available grassy patch, turning a pleasant autumn stroll into a creepy nightmare with one wrong step.
CultureMap turned to Rice University evolutionary biologist and ant expert Scott Solomon to find out why these tiny pests appear to be multiplying.
"Though it may seem like they're everywhere, there aren't necessarily more ants," he assures. "We're just seeing a lot more of them because of the rain and the lower temperatures."
"Though it may seem like there everywhere, there aren't necessarily more ants. "
Everyone's favorite Gulf Coast pest, the red fire ant, has been busy at work after Houston's Halloween storms. Solomon says that, because their larvae require specific moisture level to thrive, fire ants constantly adjust and relocate nests based on the dampness of the soil. As ground-dwellers, these ants really only have two options: build a mound after a soaking rain or dig deeper during a drought.
But Solomon notes another factor at play in the area's ant boom . . . another species.
The "tawny crazy ant" — or "Rasberry ant" a name derived from Tom Rasberry, the Pearland exterminator who first found them in Houston in 2002 — resembles its fire ant cousin, but with a slightly lighter rust color and a truly bizarre manner of walking (hence the crazy part). Both species hail from central South America.
"Tawny ants build temporary nests in existing cavities. In a forest, they might pick a hollow in a tree. But in an urban environment, they tend to look in and around buildings."
Though they don't sting, tawny ants do have a bizarre and annoying penchant for electronics, overrunning and shorting out everything from fuse boxes to laptop computers.
As far as combating Houston's dueling ant species goes, Solomon reminds CultureMap that he's not in the business of killing the invasive species, just studying them. However, he did note that the complete absence of ants in a certain area only attracts new colonies.
For more on Lone Star ants, see the extensive guide offered by Texas A&M's Center of Urban and Structural Entomology, which comes complete with possible management techniques.