Friday, May 17, 2013

The crazy business of crazy ant differentiation

This is a "placeholder" post that asks a question I cannot yet answer:  How does an ordinary person tell the difference between an invasive "Tawny" or "Rasberry" crazy ant and a "normal" crazy ant of the type that we've all seen for many years? 
I'm an outdoorsy type of person and I'm a gardener to boot, but I'm sorry - this just looks like yet another ant to me.  There's nothing about it that gives me an "Ah-hah!" moment of recognition that it is somehow different from other local ants. 

Screengrabbed from this Agrilife site
I'm asking because the mainstream news media is currently awash in re-broadcast Armageddon (antageddon?) stories about how these things are potentially a bigger threat to sanity than invasive fire ants.  You can read about it in Chron, online science journals such as this one, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and many other sources including the Tehran Times, as if anyone in Tehran would actually give a crap about what goes on in our back yards. 

Here's the thing, though: You can also find the same flavor of alarmist local stories about this ant from five years ago (e.g., this Chron article).  Rasberry crazy ants are not a new phenomenon here.  And while they're definitely spreading...
Impacted counties in red. 

Screengrabbed from this Agrilife site's not clear to me how much of this is news hype and how much of it is an actual looming problem that rises to a level of seriousness that demands our attention.  Everybody has crazy ants of some kind, so a derivative question then becomes as follows:  when Rasberry / Tawny crazy ants invade a new area, do they always manifest in the billions?  Or does their density sometimes remain within the range of what we'd expect from the species of ants we've always had (because of unfavorable small-scale terrain conditions or whatever other reason)? 

Do they always displace fire ants, or do they sometimes maintain a lower density and co-exist? 

What is the actionable criterion, in other words?  The homeowner dilemma is obvious: a homeowner sees a few crazy ants and wonders whether they're "normal" crazy ants which manifest in relatively low numbers, or this new kind of crazy ant that can be expected to mushroom into back-yard Antageddon.  Does an ordinary unskilled homeowner have to wait until an Antageddon scenario actually appears in order to make the distinction?  Or is there a way to tell in advance so that a pending Rasberry ant infestation can be nipped in the bud before their Antageddon phase develops?

The answers are not clear to me from the information I'm finding today on the internet.  If I gain any additional useful insight, I will update this post accordingly.  Meanwhile, I'll leave you with an embedded clip attributed to local Antageddon discoverer Tom Rasberry:

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