TAMPA BAY - Like something out of a bad sci-fi flick, they're showing up by the shovel-full. Look close, that's not a pile of dirt outside of this Tampa, Fla. home - those are millions and millions of dead crazy ants.
"Unlike a regular colony that might have hundreds or thousands of ants, these have hundreds of thousands and millions of ants," said Chet Rowland, owner of Chet's Termite & Pest Management in Tampa.
The "tawny crazy ant" is native to Argentina and Brazil, but it's been moving into the southern United States in record numbers. First sighted in Houston in 2002, the ants have since moved on to 21 counties in Texas, 20 counties in Florida, and a few sites in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Once they get somewhere, they begin multiplying. Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin say crazy ant colonies can reach densities 100 times greater than all the other ants in their area combined.
Here in the Tampa Bay area, Rowland says it's an epidemic.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Rowland.
The ants infest everything from homes and businesses to even electronics. Turns out, they have expensive taste.
Rowland says crazy ants are attracted to heat-producing devices, like computers and smart phones.
"They just get in there and they basically contaminate everything," said Rowland.
According to researchers, in just one year the ants caused $146.5 million in damages to electrical equipment in Texas.
Oftentimes, one ant will get into the electric device and graze against a hot wire. It gets electrocuted, and immediately releases a pheromone into the air, which lures more ants to the device. Pretty soon, there are so many dead ants in the equipment that the system will short circuit.
Rowland says over-the-counter pesticides do not work on this type of ant. So if you find an infestation, call a professional to provide routine treatment.
"It's basically control. You're not going to eliminate them. It's just like love bugs, you're never going to get rid of all of the love bugs, but you can get them under control," said Rowland.
He also advises removing any excessive debris from around your home, including mulch and leaves.