ST. JOHNS RIVER, Fla. – It may look like a pile of dirt. Or floating debris on top of the water. But if you look closer, it’s actually a mound with thousands of aggressive and venomous fire ants.
Since Hurricane Ian brought record-breaking rain and flooding to many parts of Central Florida, “life boats” made of thousands of fire ants are popping up all over the area. (We’re not the only ones trying to survive the rising flood waters.)
The unique sight is getting a lot of attention on social media. People posting photos and videos in flooded neighborhoods and waterways show groups of ants banding together to survive the rising waters. Lets face it, it’s kind of cool.
News 6 reporter Mark Lehman spotted what looks like a small mountain of fire ants floating atop the floodwaters in Astor. He snapped a photo and posted it to Facebook, getting more than 6,000 views and hundreds of comments.
He’s not the only one noticing the ant rafts. A boater, helping families navigate the rising flood waters in Osteen near the St. Johns River, showed a News 6 photographer a few of the floating death traps.
“So if you look over there, you’ll see a tan circle. It’s the fire ants in the ground, they find something to float on. That’s now a floating mound of fire ants. If they float by you, they’re going for higher and drier ground -- and that’s you. That’s the last thing you want,” Brian Alexander said.
While visiting the Boggy Creek Airboat Adventure attraction near Kissimmee, the captain pointed out several floating fire ant piles swept into Boggy Creek by the storms. Thousands of ants floating above water in a group.
Turns out, there’s been a lot of research done on fire ants and how they create their own life rafts.
A report by a Texas A&M professor focusing on pest management shows floodwaters alone don’t drown fire ants. The rising waters cause the colonies to rise from the soil and form a loose ball, floating and flowing with the water until it meets a dry area or object the ants can crawl up on.
Even though there are layers of ants underwater and over the water to create the mound, the ants are constantly moving, giving the ants at the bottom a chance to get some air. Research found that fire ant rafts can contain up to 100,000 worker ants and can survive up to 12 days.
As you can imagine, that can lead to a lot of stings if you come in contact with them.
Naturally destroying those mounds that may be a nuisance to your home or yard is pretty simple. All you need is some soapy water.
A mix of dish soap and water sprayed on the floating ant pile will sink the raft and kill the fire ants.
If you come in contact with the floating ants and they swarm you, your best bet is to try to wipe them away or strip down. Spraying water on yourself or taking a dip in the water is only going to make the ants hold on more tightly, according to researchers.
If you end up with a bunch of ant bites, be sure to treat them immediately with over-the-counter cream or medicine for insect bites.
Researchers also say dabbing a 50:50 solution of bleach and water will help relieve fire ant stings.
Have you seen any floating fire ant colonies in your neighborhood? Comment below to help give your neighbors a warning to use caution when navigating the flooded areas.