Crazy Ants Could Destroy the Entire Gulf Coast

They’re coming by the billions—strange, creepy creatures that appear to be impossible to kill. They started in Texas, but they don’t intend to stay there.

By Jon Mooallem from New York Times
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine May 2014

crazy ants

Adam Voorhes for Reader’s Digest

The first time Mike the Hog-a-Nator (whose real name is Mike Foshee) noticed the ants, it was two summers ago, and they were piled outside his cardiologist’s office in Pearland, Texas, a suburb of Houston. There was a forbidding, fibrous heap of dead ants on either side of the building’s double doors, each a couple of feet long. 
Legions of living ants shuffled over the dead ones—though Mike the Hog-a-Nator had to bend down to see these. So many ants were moving so chaotically and so fast that the entire reddish-brown tangle at his feet looked as if it were shimmering.

Six years earlier, a doctor had found a tumor on Mike the Hog-a-Nator’s aorta. It was inoperable. Mike, who was only 36, was told to live every day as if it were his last. He narrowed his joys and priorities to two: The first was putting smiles on the faces of people who needed them, so he started a program he calls Therapy Through the Outdoors. Ever since, he has been taking kids with terminal diseases and veterans with injuries or PTSD on adventures in the 60-acre woodland across from his house. The other was shooting as many feral hogs as he possibly could.

Mike hates feral hogs and has always found it very satisfying to clear those hideous, rooting thugs off a piece of land. He has always been good at it, too—that’s how he got his nickname. Feral hogs are among the most gruesome and destructive invasive species in the United States. The federal government estimates that there are now five million hogs in 35 states, resulting in $1.5 billion in damages and control costs every year. The ants were an entirely different sort of invasive species. They arrived at Mike’s house a few months after he first saw them at his cardiologist’s office. One day, his air-conditioning stopped working. A musty smell seeped from the vents. He powered up his Shop-Vac to clear them, and by the time he’d finished, he’d sucked out five gallons of ants.

Soon he and his wife were waking up to find vast, frantic networks of ants zipping around the kitchen floor. When the picture on their 50-inch television started flickering, Mike took off the back panel and found the guts throbbing with ants. He got rid of the television.

Outside, dead ants began pooling around the house in heaps so high, they looked like discarded coffee grounds. Mike laid out poison, generating more heaps of dead ants. But new ants merely used those dead ants as a bridge over the poison and kept streaming inside.

People don’t want to visit the Foshees anymore, and if they do, they leave quickly, before the ants can stow away in their cars and accompany them home. This summer, Mike had to cancel Therapy Through the Outdoors. Recently, he and his wife were sitting outside when Mike looked down and saw one of his bare feet overtaken by ants. He ran inside, then ran back out with the AR-15 assault rifle he uses to take out hogs. He was about to open fire on the ants until his wife chuckled, and he realized how ridiculous the situation had become.

“The distressing part,” he told me, “is the feeling of something always crawling on you. It’s psychological, and yet you actually do have them on you.”

He tried leaving different foods on his floor overnight, to figure out how he might bait and kill the ants, as he did with the feral hogs. He tried doughnuts, crushed-up Cheerios, bread crumbs—“anything a normal ant would be attracted to,” he told me. He claims they touched none of it.

“They run around like they’re on crack, and then they die,” he said. “They’re freakin’ crazy, man.”

Adam Voorhes for Reader's Digest

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