Crazy Ant
© UnknownClose-up view of a Raspberry crazy ant. Entomologists say the public must learn about the destructive Rasberry crazy ant and help prevent them from spreading.
A destructive menace is heading west on Interstate 10 toward San Antonio.

It's the crazy Raspberry ant that was first spotted in Houston in 2002. No one knows where it came from or how to control it, but it reproduces faster than any insect experts have ever seen.

"This is an alien species," says Sam Houston State University Entomologist Dr. Jerry Cook. "This is in higher densities than any other insects I've ever seen. They number in the billions and cover everything around them."

"Where you'll have 200,000 ants in a big fire ant mound, you'll have billions of crazy ants in one area, in that one group. They form a carpet of ants over acres that is several inches thick."

"It's a potential ecological disaster, displacing everything in front of it, other insects. Some people think getting rid of insects is good but it's not good for the environment. Insects play a vital role. When you destroy insects, you destroy the food for birds and other animals that depend on these insect populations. It could affect our food supply, reducing the crop yield by 30 to 40 percent."

The crazy ants even kill fire ants, which many may think is good news, but they are more destructive to homes and businesses than fire ants. They pack into electrical equipment in such dense numbers that they short out computers, air conditioning units and car computers.

The crazy Raspberry ant is named after exterminator Tom Raspberry, who first discovered it in 2002.

"At the time, there were about 500 ants. The next year, there were millions. Now they number in the billions. They've already done millions of dollars worth of damage to chemical plants. Most of those (businesses) are not willing to talk. They've gotten into circuit boards. They've shut valves on pipe lines. They've shorted out units. If we don't do something, they could actually devastate the entire coastline of the Southern U.S." Raspberry said.

It's believed these ants arrived in the United States in 2002 in a cargo shipment through the port of Houston, and they've been multiplying ever since. Last year, they were in five counties. This year, they're already in 11 counties and they're spreading in every direction by the billions.

Right now, the crazy ant is 90 miles from San Antonio. Entomologists say they they could be in San Antonio this year.

It's the sheer number of ants that makes them so dangerous.

Raspberry tells this story of a woman who called his office two weeks ago.

"While the lady was talking to us, she was telling her 2-year-old, 'Honey, it's OK, they won't bite you.' They were crawling all over her baby," he said.

They invaded Rex Williams' backyard last year. They were so bad, the Williams family couldn't go in the backyard. The ants would swarm up their legs. Over-the-counter products don't kill them. He had to call in the professionals.

"They were just everywhere. It would be like a blanket of them. Who wants that sensation of something crawling all over you, up your legs and feet, something like that? That's what San Antonio can expect," Williams said.

While he caught them before they invaded his house, he has neighbors who weren't as lucky.

"In some areas of the house, if they get in they can be half an inch thick just crawling all over each other all over the floor," he said.

A crazy ant task force is studying the problem, but right now there's no money to fund research.

Dr. Cook feels we are at a tipping point in trying to get control of this pest.

"I think the fire ant gives us the example of why this should be more than talking about the problem. If we had tried to control the fire ant earlier, it may not be the problem it is now," Cook said.

And experts say the crazy ant could be worse, affecting electrical equipment and our food supply for years to come.