Houston, Texas is only beginning to take stock of the damage Hurricane Harvey has inflicted.
Residents of the Houston area affected by Hurricane Harvey have spotted an unusual risk in the floodwaters: colonies of fire ants that have joined together to form floating rafts.
Guidelines provided by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension service urge people to use caution around floating fire ant islands.
“Floating fire ant colonies can look like ribbons, streamers, mats, rafts, or an actual “ball” of ants floating on the water”, Nester said.
As for the ants, they’re just trying to escape too, but if you come across a colony, steer clear.
Extension specialist Paul Nester recommended that people wear cuffed gloves, rain gear and rubber boots to protect themselves from the ants, and said that if ants do get onto the skin, they should be brushed off immediately. Others found hope in the fire ants’ strength and togetherness. In fact, about ten Americans die each year as a result of fire ant encounters.
While shocking (but fake) posts about things like sharks swimming on highways often emerge on social media during extreme weather events, many recent reports of tiny islands of fire ants are real.
Fire ants can survive in these structures for weeks or even longer, though they’re constantly seeking new dry land to colonize as they float. He also tells Houstonia that, while water won’t wash them off, “a spray made of diluted biodegradable dishwashing liquid may help immobilize and drown them”.
Apparently fire ants already have a slight resistance to water on their own, but nothing so strong as when they work together.