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Pesky Fire Ants Can Swim

Before I started in radio I worked for a lawn and garden chemical distribution company out of Dallas.  Our top seller was fire ant bait and killer.  Those pesky little ants seem to be able to survive just like roaches.  It seems that fire ants have been a problem in the south for a long time.  They pop up everywhere, they are hard to get rid of and they seem to explode after a rain.  They hurt like the dickens when they bite too.

Fire ants are an invasive species that cause a lot of agricultural damage as well as just being a pest in general.

Bart Drees/fireants.tamu.edu

There are management projects all over the state as well as research into what makes these pests so resistant to control methods and why they can “swim” when other ant species cannot. Texas A&M University is one such organization that is researching this project.  There are some great tips on their website. However, Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta is researching the question as to how these ants can float .

For the first time, a group of engineers has attacked the question of ant flotation from a physics perspective.

The simple explanation is that they trap air bubbles between them and use that as a floatation device. The water then carries them along the current.  So what does all of this research mean?  Hopefully it’s finding a way to control and/or eliminate this species that hurts livestock, crops, lawns, pets and does a lot economic  damage. Beyond that though is the technology that can be used from the research.

This type of research could eventually help in many fields, from making a better rain jacket to building robots that can think. When the ants link up their mandibles and legs, they form a highly waterproof weave, which could be the basis for next-generation materials for lifejackets or boats. In addition, social insects like ants have long been the inspiration for autonomous robotics that could link up to build a larger structure.

Some folks have already found a way to look on the bright side of this pest.  They hold annual festivals.  Ashburn, Georgia and Marshall, Texas are such towns.

Since 1982, the residents of Marshall have adopted an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join

Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

‘em” attitude toward Texas’ most prevalent pests with a two-day ode to the fire ant, held each second weekend of October.

They hold parades, bike rides, 5k runs, domino tournaments, cook-offs, even rubber throwing contests. The towns motto is “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” so until a control method or other usefulness is found I guess that’s the motto we should all adopt towards these ants.

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