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Rasberry, we have a problem: Exterminator saves NASA from crazy ants

  • 16 May 2008
  • Written by 
  • Published in Space
The Texas Gulf Coast in the United States is being invaded by tiny, hairy, long-legged, reddish ants. They are called Crazy Rasberry ants after the exterminator who first battled them and the “crazy” way they run.

The pests have even invaded and tried to destroy (eat away at) critical computer systems at the NASA Johnson Space Center, in Clear Lake City, Texas, just south of Houston Texas.

However, Tom Rasberry saved the day for NASA—successfully controlling the swarming ants at the key NASA space facility.

Sometime before 2002, a species of ant was believed to have been brought over to the Texas Gulf Coast on a cargo ship from the Caribbean. Since then, they have traveled about fifty miles into five counties of the Texas Gulf Coast, which is located in the south-central part of the United States, just north of the Gulf of Mexico.

These counties are: Harris (which contains Houston), Brazoria, Galveston, Montgomery, and Wharton.

The ants like moist, damp areas so will probably stay in the Gulf Coast area of Texas, rather than move too far inland. However, they are causing havoc to the citizens of the Texas Gulf Coast area.

Here is what one Texas resident had to say about them:

Patsy Morphew, Pearland, Texas: "They're just running wild. You know how racehorses run down the track? They go both ways. They have nowhere to go, just running crazy wild. They crawl through the eaves of the house and go into the bathroom. You know what it's like to sit down on the commode with crazy ants running everywhere?" [Houston Chronicle: “'Crazy' ants wreaking havoc in Houston-area households”]

Back in 2002, U.S. exterminator Tom Rasberry, owner of Budget Pest Control (Pearland, Texas, a city outside of Houston), battled the voracious ants. They were dubbed the Crazy Rasberry ants, after Mr. Rasberry.
At that time, Mr. Rasberry would spray pesticide to kill thousands of them, but would soon find millions of them replacing the dead ones.

There are so many of the little ants that they can literally short-circuit computers, electronics, machines, and other such devices and systems as they look and forage for food anywhere they can find it.

Rasberry stated that the Crazy Rasberry ant is as bad, or worse, than fire ants. A queen ant can lay up to one thousand eggs per day in one ant mound. However, Crazy Rasberry ants do not use mounds, they simply find anything that will hide them and begin producing new ants with not just one queen ant, but with many queens.

In some instances, Crazy Rasberry ants have been found to eat fire ants. Now, that’s a seriously bad ant!

The ants also like to drink the juices from wild and domesticated plants and eat beneficial insects such as ladybugs.

Rasberry is quoted to have said, “I think they go into everything, and they don't follow any kind of structured line. If you open a computer, you would find a cluster of ants on the motherboard and all over. You'd get 3,000 or 4,000 ants inside, and they create arcs. They'll wipe out any computer." [Computerworld: “NASA moves to save computers from swarming ants”]

Mr. Rasberry uses the chemicals fipronil (broadspectrum insecticide) and chlorfenapyr (pesticide), which has been shown to be somewhat effective against the ants. However, Rasberry says it doesn’t always work. Even though he charges around $85 for an average ant spraying, when he is spraying for Crazy Rasberry ants, he often charges about $600 or even more. Some media reports have shown people paying $1,200 for exterminating services.

Even at those prices, his work isn’t always effective at getting rid of the menacing ants. His unsuccessful efforts at getting rid of the ants have forced him to come back many times to such infested areas. He states that in some cases “ … they are actually costing me money.” [The New York Times: “A Pest Without a Name, Becoming Known to Ever More”]

What happened at NASA’s space facility in Houston, Texas? Please read on.

A few months ago the Johnson Space Center, one of NASA’s major space facilities, was forced to call Tom Rasberry after NASA officials found the ants inside their facility.

After controlling the JSC invasion, Rasberry said, “With the computer systems they have in there, it could devastate the facility. If these ants got into the facility in the numbers they have in other locations, well, it would be awful. I've been in this business for 32 years, and this is unlike anything I've ever seen. Anything. When you bring in entomologists from all over the U.S. and they're in shock and awe, that shows you what it's like." [Computerworld]

When news spread about the infestation at NASA, Frank Michel, spokesperson for Houston mayor Bill White, received a call from a Russian government official. Mr. Michel reported, “I got a call from Moscow wanting to know if NASA was safe.” He said, “I reassured the Russians we’re O.K..” [The New York Times]

In the Houston Chronicle article “'Crazy' ants wreaking havoc in Houston-area households”, Mr. Rasberry is shown in a picture with the Crazy Rasberry ants crawling all over his arm while exterminating in Deer Park, Texas, another city near to Houston.

The Center for Urban & Structural Entomology, Department of Entomology at the Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas) have studied the ants. So far, the exact species of the ant has not been identified by scientists. They are being temporarily called “paratrechina sp. nr. pubens," or "paratrenicha species near pubens."

The common name used most often is the Caribbean crazy ant (for Paratrechina pubens). However, around the Houston area, the common name is often the crazy rasberry ant (for Paratrechina sp. nr. pubens).

Similar species of ants are found in the Southeast United States and the Caribbean.


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