As floodwaters rise in Houston and its surrounding area, fire ants are staging their own type of evacuation, by floating to safety on rafts made out of their own bodies.
On Sunday (Aug. 27), CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca tweeted a photo of a huge raft of fire ants seen in Houston — yet another danger inhabitants of southeastern Texas have had to contend with since Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall as a hurricane on Friday night (Aug. 25).
— Omar Villafranca (@OmarVillafranca) August 27, 2017
In the United States, fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) primarily inhabit the Southeast. When faced with a flood, they emerge from the soil, and form a floating raft by linking their bodies together. Rafts made up of as many as 8,000 ants have been observed, according to a 2011 study performed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The ants' ability to trap air pockets makes them buoyant and, for the submerged ants at the bottom of the raft, provides a source of oxygen, according to the study. [In Photos: Hurricane Harvey Takes Aim at Texas]
It is wise for people traversing flooded areas in rowboats to avoid touching a raft of fire ants with an oar, because the ants could climb up the oar and into the boat, according to a report by Paul Nester, a member of the Fire Ant Project Team at Texas A&M University in College Station.
And, as one would imagine, direct contact is not advised, either.
“If one of those rafts comes in contact with you, or you try to break it apart, it will likely disperse and crawl up you," Tim Davis, an entomologist at Clemson University, told USA Today in 2015.
Luckily, there is an effective way to sink these rafts: spray them with soapy water. According to Nester, biodegradable liquid dishwashing detergent could be used by emergency personnel to deal with these floating fire ants.
Fire ant rafts were also spotted northwest of Charleston, South Carolina, in Dorchester County, during a historic 2015 flood. More recently, in late June 2017, rafts of fire ants were seen floating on floodwater left by Tropical Storm Cindy in Jamaica Beach, Texas.
Original article on Live Science.