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 antsAdam 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.”

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail

  • Your Comments

    • gdfairy

      I have just heard about grits. I am currently trying it. Since it has been only 2 days it may take a few more. The chemicals Florida Pest Control used, only seemed to increase the amount of ants! This is lots cheaper, and won’t hurt my bees or chickens.

    • sabrina

      Importing anteaters might work, but only if they are ABSOLUTELY SURE that they will eat the ants in question. There is a long history of things like that going horribly wrong.

    • solebrth

      I was thinking the same thing , get some ant eaters and let them go to it !

    • jenbenj

      I’m from Australia and backpacked the gulf coast 10 years ago and remember experiencing the ants then. I scrambled out of my sleeping bag kicking mini invasion of ants off. Great memories otherwise .

    • edmontoncats

      Edmonton and the cold weather here is looking better all the time!!!!!

      • Anton B

        After you type your message in the message box slide down about a half-inch to the “Submit” button.
        I think that’s what you’re looking for.

        • Anton B

          This was meant for Donna Zacharias, not edmontoncats. Sorry!

          • edmontoncats

            No problem!

    • Donna Zacharias

      I tried to send this to my girl friend to read and it put up the page to fill out and put a note but no SEND BUTTON was on the page anywhere.

    • dorik

      Dorik
      Several years ago an apartment I rented came with LOTS of ants…. I know, not like yours but please bare with me. We have allergies and can’t use chemicals and poisons, so in my search for a natural way to manage our problem I ran across this recipe and it’s like ‘magic’. The ants LOVE it, they eat it on the spot and take it back with them in many trips…. killing the ant hill.

      Mix 1/2 and 1/2: Powdered sugar, and old fashioned’ Borax’ Laundry Soap…. the ’20 mule team’ box :-)

      I HOPE this will help all of you, at LEAST in your individual homes and businesses…….