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Crazy Ants are Overpowering Fire Ants [VIDEO]

Update Date: Feb 13, 2014 02:05 PM EST
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Across southeastern United States, fire ants are being terrorized by invasive "crazy" ants. According to new research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, these crazy ants are displacing the fire ants by secreting a compound that renders the fire ants' venom harmless. The researchers believe that their study is the first to find an example of one insect's ability to neutralize another insect's venom.

For this study, the researchers conducted laboratory experiments that exposed the crazy ants to fire ant venom. Fire ants are known for their painful stings caused by powerful and potentially fatal venom. The researchers observed the crazy ants and found that these ants were capable of detoxifying the venom by using an elaborate detoxification procedure. The researchers were able to detail the procedure.

Once a crazy ant was exposed to the venom, a specialized gland that sits on the tip of the ant's abdomen secreted formic acid. The acid was then transferred to the ant's mouth and then smeared throughout the ant's body. The researchers found that the ants in the experiments had a 98 percent survival rate.

"The crazy ants charged into the fire ants, spraying venom," said Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in UT Austin's College of Natural Sciences. "When the crazy ants were dabbed with fire ant venom, they would go off and do this odd behavior where they would curl up their gaster [an ant's modified abdomen] and touch their mouths."

He added, "As this plays out, unless something new and different happens, crazy ants are going to displace fire ants from much of the southeastern U.S. and become the new ecologically dominant invasive ant species."

The researchers stated that these ants could greatly disrupt the ecosystems of animals and humans alike. Since the ants can displace other insects, food sources for different animals could be jeopardized. Furthermore, as the population of crazy ants increase, they might start to live inside human homes where they can destroy electrical equipment.

The study, "Chemical Warfare Among Invaders: A Detoxification Interaction Facilitates an Ant Invasion," was published in Science Express.

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