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Warning: The Raspberry running ant is coming
by Gene Owens



It has been a longstanding tradition with this column that whenever a physical threat to our Southland arises, I quickly sound a warning to readers -- regardless of whether the threat passes the Snopes test.

That's why I'm writing about the exotic crazy Raspberry running ant, which is threatening to take over the coastal areas of Texas. And as Texas goes, so goes Louisiana. And Mississippi. And the entire area once known as the Confederacy. Not since a guy named Sherman approached from the opposite direction has Dixie been in such peril.

In the past, I've written about feral pythons squirming their way northward from Florida; the mapinguary, the Bigfoot of the Amazon; the Peruvian phorid fly, which injects its larvae into the fire ant, leaving the little varmints to work their way into the fire ant's head and suck its brains out; and the jaguarandi, a jaguar relative that disguises itself as an ordinary housecat and dismembers small dogs and other bite-sized objects that cross its path.

You will notice that up to now the South has not been taken over by pythons, mapinguaries, or jaguarandis. I haven't heard of any human victims of the Peruvian phorid fly, though this political year has produced several specimens of homo politicus who seem to have had their brains sucked out.

So let's talk about the crazy Raspberry running ant and its effect on the Texas countryside. We'll call it the running ant for short, partly because the raspberry is one of the few berries I don't like.

The good thing about the running ant: It kills fire ants. I wish a couple of them had been around the day fire ants infiltrated my condo and infested the Oreo cookie package. I got up after midnight one morning, attempting to filch a cookie without Miss Peggy's knowing about it. I reached for a cookie and suddenly became aware of things crawling all over my hand. Knowing that I lived in fire ant country, I made a quick dash for the kitchen sink to wash them down the drain.

The ants read my mind and began biting before I could get there. When I went to the Fire Ant Festival in Marshall, Texas, some years ago, a cowboy told me that fire ants had been known to kill calves. The dumb animal stands in the middle of a fire ant bed until the ants have completely covered it. Then, at a given signal, the ants start biting all at once, and the calf is dead meat.

Fortunately, I got to the sink before the ants had arrived in full force, so I survived the night, though I had a hard time explaining to Miss Peggy where those pustules on my hand and arm came from. Some running ants might have helped, but I would have welcomed them only if they all were of the same sex.

The reason? Running ants multiply faster than a math wizard reciting the times table. Tom Raspberry, the Pearland, Texas, exterminator who lent his name to the ant, says he first discovered the breed in 2002. He saw a couple of thousand of them that year, and tried to knock them out with some anti-ant spray. Next year, there were millions of them.

The running ant is a little fellow. The individuals don't look scary at all. But a million of them will scare you worse than a battalion of mapanguaries. Like fire ants, they bite. Unlike fire ants, they don't sting.

Nobody knows where the crazy Raspberry running ant came from. The fire ant entered the United States during the 1930s through the port of Mobile, Ala., aboard a cargo vessel from Brazil. It has now spread northwestward past Marshall, Texas, and northeastward past where I live.

The running ant is confined so far to the Houston area, though it's advancing at the rate of a half-mile a year. At that rate, it should reach Atlanta in about 1,700 years. But let us not relax our vigil. If the running ant gets as far as Hobby Airport in Houston it will be able to hijack jetliners to Atlanta, and as every Southerner knows, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the gateway to the world.

The running ant has relatives in Florida, Colombia and the Caribbean. It belongs to the genus Paratrechina, but scientists have been unable to identify the species.

Now, up to this point you may figure the running ant to be a relatively harmless little critter, seeing as how it doesn't sting.

But listen to this: Its kinfolk in Colombia have been known to asphyxiate chickens and have even attacked cattle by swarming over their eyelids, nostrils and hooves.

That's enough to cure me of midnight raids on the pantry. I'm going to take to filling my bathtub every night before going to bed. If I wake up and feel crawly things covering my eyelids, clogging my nostrils and playing footsy with me, I'm going to make a quick dash to the bathtub and hope there's enough water to drown the varmints before they blind me, asphyxiate me or nibble away my feet.

All you who read this column, pass it on to everybody you know whom you don't want to see eaten up by ants. This is not an urban legend. I read it in the New York Times, so it has to be true.

If you get the word out, this column will once again have saved the South.

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Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.

As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.

He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.


Read more of Gene's entertaining columns:
Polaroid fades into history
A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Roy Moore at the Courthouse Door
All about Gene and Greasepit Grammar
Greasepit Grammar: Misplaced modifiers
Greasepit Grammar: Inertia can get you
Greasepit Grammar: Drinking and dranking
Greasepit Grammar: A Pronominal grand slam
The Wal-Mart Paradox
Taking a week off from retirement to do nothing
Insulation reduces mouse mortality rate
Flocking South with the snowbirds
Juicy Fruit will gum up the mole works
Dan Rather and the Texas truth
Putting on the dog!
The scars turned to flowers
If only our forefathers had used attack ads
Decent 'dogs
Thoughts from the Southern road
Sic the goats on your kudzu
Save the kudzu - fuel of the future
Charlotte and Charleston: Political tale of two cities

Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com
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