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Invasion of acid-spitting pest ants in the United States: towards a solution to exterminate them

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These insects originating from South America are also spreading to the United States where they cause terrible damage.

A real scourge frequently affects Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana: the invasion of tawny crazy ants – whose scientific name is Nylanderia fulva – endangers the ecosystem of the place where they spread.

Uncontrollable and interfering everywhere, barely measuring a few millimetres, they manage to drive away local insects – they can make species disappear whole, like spiders or centipedes – but also small animals – like chickens, rabbits and they would even have attacked cows -, in their spitting acid on it and by blinding them, for example, as reported by The Independent.

They also attack electrical appliances by causing short circuits and can thus crawling in the houses.

For many years, the means of combating this invasive species remain unsuccessful, but a scientific publication could restore hope of getting rid of these invaders who destroy everything in their path.

An unknown fungus as a solution

For twenty years, scientists have been trying to find a solution to the problem. But now a team of researchers seem to have found through a mushroom. The results of their work were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 28.

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They managed to isolate a fungus that would be able to attack these pests. This fungal pathogen called Myrmecomorba nylanderiae causes the death of the ant in question without attacking the other species.

Researchers at the University of Texas in the United States worked on the subject for almost eight years.

The fungus in question was highlighted when they were studying the ants taken for their work. Some had fat filled abdomens. Inside were spores that destroy infected ants.

The origin of this fungus is unknown but scientists believe that it comes from the place of origin of the species of this ant and that it carried with it while migrating.

Very convincing results

They then tested the pathogen in real life at Estero Llano Grande Park in Weslaco, Texas. Indeed, wild ants had invaded the park and had destroyed the other species.

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One of the authors of the publication, Edward G. LeBrun explains that at this place, “it was apocalyptic, rivers of ants were going up and down from every tree. So that’s where we started the experimental process, because there was nothing to lose.”

They therefore deposited certain specimens infected with the fungal pathogen – the famous fungus – near the nesting sites of the crazy ants. At the same time they attracted other populations of ants which had been decimated by the crazy ants.

And the results were convincing: in a few months the invasive ants saw their population drop until they practically disappeared and the other species regained their rights.

While clarifying that “this doesn’t mean crazy ants are going to go away,” LeBrun said in a statement to UTNews the day the study was released.

“I think it has a lot of potential for protecting sensitive habitats with endangered species or areas of high conservation value.”

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