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An extraordinary yet frightening phenomenon is taking place in the floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. Residents of Houston and surrounding areas have seen rust-colored clumps floating with the current as massive amounts of rainfall have inundated the streets. These clumps have been identified as fire ant colonies, which are displaying some of the finest survival skills of all insects.

In the event of their environment being flooded, these creatures latch on to each other with their legs and create a massive raft, protecting most importantly the queen, eggs, larvae, pupae (stage between egg and larvae) and entire colony. Their bodies are made up of a waxy layer that repels water from the outside, while keeping them from over-drying internally at the same time. The ants constantly rotate up from the bottom, taking turns as the bottom layer, and bringing their eggs, larvae, and pupae to safety in the center. Amazingly, the fleet of ants stays dry and continues to drift with the current until any safe landfall is reached, where they will build their new home.

Unfortunately, these ants pose a threat with their painful stings. They use their mouth to latch on and then drive their stinger into their victim. This releases a pheromone that sets off a chain reaction, notifying nearby ants to sting as well. It can be extremely painful, and even deadly for those who are allergic. If you are attacked, brushing them off will cause them to roll up and fall off. Going underwater will unfortunately have no effect, as they will already be latched on. Dish soap can be used to break down their waxy layers, if you happen to have that on hand in an encounter, but your best bet is to steer clear of these menacing masses.

 

Sources:

https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/hurricane-harvey/floating-venomous-fire-ants-add-threats-hurricane-s-wake-n797261

https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/29/16221842/hurricane-harvey-houston-fire-ants

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/us/fire-ants-harvey-hurricane-storm.html

 

 

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