Crazy Ants Have Secret Weapon in Insect War

Can produce antidote to fire ant poison: study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 14, 2014 1:30 PM CST
Updated Feb 14, 2014 1:42 PM CST
In this 2009 file photo, a queen Nylanderia pubens (crazy ant) specimen is seen in Starkville, Miss.   (AP Photo/Mississippi State Entomological Museum, Joe MacGown, File)
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(Newser) – When we first introduced you to crazy ants, we mentioned they might pose a threat to fire ants. As fire ants aren't the friendliest of insects, that probably didn't sound so terrible. Except that now, crazy ants are indeed driving away fire ants via a remarkable built-in antidote to fire ant poison—"the first time such an ability has been documented among insects," the Houston Chronicle reports—which gives crazy ants the advantage when fighting for food. And since a researcher says crazy ants can cause even more damage than stinging fire ants, that's not great news for wildlife or for us, the Los Angeles Times reports. "It basically means that there will be a reduction in the amount of the food at the base of the food web which will ripple up to creatures like birds," researcher Edward LeBrun explains, per Scientific American.

Crazy ants not only short-circuit electronics and hide out in electrical outlets, "they cause a lot of ecological harm and environmental harm," says LeBrun, who first caught on to the crazy ants' secret weapon while watching them battle fire ants over a dead cricket. The crazy ants were "smeared with fire ant toxin, a fate that should have been lethal." But the crazy ants simply exuded a drop of formic acid, put it in their mouths, then covered their bodies with it, which saved 98% of them from the poison. "Unless something new and different happens, crazy ants are going to displace fire ants from much of the southeastern US and become the new ecologically dominant invasive ant species," LeBrun adds, but he may have a clue how to stop them. When the acid duct in the crazy ants was covered, 48% died from the fire ant poison. (Read more crazy ants stories.)

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