CNN) -- Beware the "crazy ants."
Researchers at the University of Texas are warning that the invasive species from South America has the potential to change the ecological balance in the southeastern United States, largely because the ants can wipe out colonies of what's been widely considered the insect villain of the region, the fire ant.
The crazy ants, officially called "Tawny crazy ants," are omnivores that can take over an area by both killing what's there and starving out what they don't kill, said Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in the College of Natural Sciences.
"Perhaps the biggest deal is the displacement of the fire ant, which is the 300-pound gorilla in Texas ecosystems these days," LeBrun said in a press release. "The whole system has changed around fire ants. Things that can't tolerate fire ants are gone. Many that can have flourished. New things have come in. Now we are going to go through and whack the fire ants and put something in its place that has a very different biology. There are going to be a lot of changes that come from that."
Beyond the troubles they cause for the environment, the crazy ants can be a big headache for people because their populations are so dense, LeBrun said.
The crazy ants nest in walls, crawl spaces, house plants or empty containers in the yard, researchers said.
"They don't sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests," he said. "There are videos on YouTube of people sweeping out dustpans full of these ants from their bathroom. You have to call pest control operators every three or four months just to keep the infestation under control. It's very expensive."
The crazy ants are going so crazy, in fact, that some people want their fire ants back, LeBrun said.
"Fire ants are in many ways very polite. They live in your yard. They form mounds and stay there, and they only interact with you if you step on their mound," he said.
Scientists are unsure how far the ants, which are native to Argentina and Brazil, may spread in the U.S. Since being first seen in Houston in 2002, they've been found mostly in wetter environments with mild winters in parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.
And while they can quickly overwhelm a small area, the reproductive members of the species don't fly, so to move over large distances, they have to hitchhike -- in your stuff.
"If people living in or visiting invaded areas are careful and check for the crazy ants when moving or going on longer trips, they could have a huge impact on the spread," LeBrun said.
What a coincedence! I was just reading a Yahoo News article about the crazy ant! I first learned about this species of ant after watching the Animal Planet show Infested. I hate ants to begin with, so having another species to deal with terrifies me!
Thank you for the reply Emma. Yes, I wouldn't want to have to deal with the crazy ant.
I saw that article too, Emma. It says people prefer fire ants and crazy ants displace fire ants. *shudder* Who would ever have imagined a future in which fire ant infestation is the good old days.
Imagine a time when large animals outnumbered the human population and took steps to remain more numerous.
Imagine a time when people in the lands that became the Americas had strict immigration laws.
Chocolate-covered ants have been marketed for years.
Is anyone marketing chocolate-covered crazy ants?
I wonder if they taste any good.
Start a rumor that eating at least 10 Crazy Ants will produce a fantastic high ... they would be exterminated in a year and if Congress makes eating ants illegal ...about a month.
When I was a child, we had well behaved ants. I don't see them anymore. I guess the fire ants ran them off.