Floating Fire Ant Colonies Have Their Own Way Of Escaping The Floods In Houston

A strange side effect of the floods occurring in Houston due to Harvey is the resulting animal behavior. There have been alligators lurking in backyards, snakes swimming in the streets and, now, floating rafts of fire ants are popping up in Texas. 

Check it out:

This is actually common behavior during flooding. Fire ants spend most of their lives in colonies in the soil but when there is major flooding (as has been the case recently, thanks to Harvey), they meet on the highest ground and band together to form a pontoon. As the water rises, the floating colony tips into the water and begins its journey to dry land.

“Floating fire ant colonies can look like ribbons, streamers, mats, rafts, or an actual ‘ball’ of ants floating on the water,” explained Paul R Nester, a specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, talking to Houstonia Magazine

That’s not to say it’s not freaking some people out. Houston Chronicle reporter Mike Hixenbaugh, posted a video of this rather scary phenomenon happening just outside his house.

The whole raft-building process is very speedy and takes roughly 100 seconds from start to finish. One floating colony could comprise of 100,000 ants and can survive for up to 12 days

The structure is held together by the worker ants, who cling on to each other with their tarsi (insect hands if you will), while the queens stay safe in the raft’s center. 

If you spot one of these colonies, you might want to stay clear. Fire ants have a pretty nasty bite. But if you absolutely must venture into flood water, Nester advises dressing up in cuffed gloves, rubber boots, and protective rain gear. It would be anybody’s luck to avoid the alligators and snakes, only to taken down by a fire ant.

If one gets on your skin, try rubbing vigorously and washing them off with detergent, Nester told Houstonia Magazine. “[A] spray made of diluted biodegradable dishwashing liquid may help immobilize and drown them.”

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