Texas may soon experience swarms of fire ant zombies, but that is a good thing. Really.
Turning the invasive ants into addle-brained wanderers is the latest attempt to control the non-native species, which has afflicted the South for half a century and causes an estimated $1 billion in damage in Texas each year. The insects swarm on circuit breakers and other electrical equipment, damaging them severely.
Swarms of the stinging insects can also severely injure humans and can kill smaller animals, such as young calves and pets, that stumble across nests.
To combat the pest, Texas agricultural officials have begun releasing a new species of the ant’s natural enemy, the South American phorid fly.
The fly attacks foraging fire ants, injecting eggs into the ant with a needle-like appendage. As the larvae mature, they attack and destroy the brain, causing the ant to wander aimlessly like a zombie. After two weeks or so, the ant’s head falls off and a new fly emerges, ready to attack other ants.
The phorid flies have never been found to attack native ants, preferring to dine only on their South American hosts.
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