HOUSTON (WSVN) — As if the devastating floods in the wake of Hurricane Harvey weren’t enough, people are now spotting “islands” of fire ants in the flood waters.
Omar Villafranca, a CBS News correspondent, spotted a fire ant island in Houston and tweeted out this image:
Paul Dellegatto, a meteorologist for Fox 13 in Tampa, also posted a photo of one such floating ant mass, with the caption, “Just to add to the Houston misery. There are snakes, gators and fire ants in the flood waters. Fire ants form floating flotillas to survive. Walk into one and your scream will be heard in Waco.”
According to Texas A&M University, fire ants do not drown in flooding. Rather, the colonies “emerge from the soil, form a loose ball, float, and flow with the water until they reach a dry area or object they can crawl up on.”
The university’s Agrilife Extension service warns people to exercise caution if they spot the floating ants in water.
“Avoid contact with floating mats of fire ants. If you are in a row boat, do not touch the ants with the oars since they can ‘climb aboard’ via the oars,” explained Texas A&M Agrilife Extension specialist Paul Nester in the guidance note. “Occasionally, floating ant masses are encountered even indoors in flooded structures.”
Nester also advises people to dress appropriately when working in floodwater. “Cuffed gloves, rain gear, and rubber boots help prevent the ants from reaching the skin. If they do, they will bite and sting,” he wrote. “Remove them immediately by rubbing them off. If submerged, ants will cling to the skin and even a high-pressure water spray may not dislodge them. However, a spray made of diluted biodegradable dishwashing liquid may help immobilize and drown them.”
It’s not the first time the strange phenomenon has been spotted during flooding. A Fox Carolina reporter witnessed the unusual sight during flooding in South Carolina back in 2015.
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