Author Archives: clt5

Texas vs. Ants, Who Will Win?!

Picture of a “little black ant”

“We can’t live them; we can’t live without them!” This is probably one of the most appropriate quotes when applied to ants.

This year I live on the 1st floor of Martel, which basically means that my “unofficial” roommates are from the class Insecta.  I have seen my fair share of spiders, dandy long legs, and cockroaches! Well, recently, I have come across the infamous ants!  I was enjoying a nice shower after a long, cold day at school, when, all of a sudden, a line of ants appeared on my shower wall!  Being the irrational coward that I am, I freaked out and ran straight out of the bathroom! Luckily, I didn’t see the ants for a few weeks, but now the ants started reappearing out of nowhere! UGH!

The little black ants that you see around campus are most likely Monomorium minimum.  They are rather harmless and play a huge role in our ecosystem.  They are scavengers that feed on bird droppings, dead insects, and leftover food.  Unfortunately, those aren’t the only insects that inhabit Houston. In fact, there has been an increase in the diversity of ants in Houston!  Particularly, a new invasive species you may know as the “tawny crazy ant” or formerly the “Rasberry crazy ant”, have made its way to Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi! It’s rapidly spreading across the southern region of the United States.

Photos taken by the Joe A. MacGown/Mississippi Entomological Museum

The “tawny crazy ant” is originally from South America, specifically Argentina and southern Brazil.  Due to the increase in trading with South America, a few of these tawny crazy ants were able to get into America.  The scientifically accepted name of the “tawny crazy ant” is Nylanderia fulva and it is known to be the most aggressive invasive species in the world! (You really don’t want to mess around with them) From electrical wires to livestock, they have a niche for everything.  The “tawny crazy ants” damage electrical equipment by forming bridges between the electrical currents, which in turn, causes it to short out.  One good thing about Nylanderia fulva is that they don’t sting.

Photo of a "tawny crazy ant"

The “tawny crazy ant” is successful for multiple reasons.  Firstly, they are highly competitive and adaptive.  They can easily turn foreign land into their home. UT researchers studied the invasion of tawny crazy ants in a fire ant dominated location and saw that the tawny ants were able to completely eliminate the fire ants in that region.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that they have secrete a very potent chemical for defense and offense.  Like other ant species, Nylanderia fulva produces formic acid in their poison glands, but they produce more than two orders of magnitude of formic acid compared to other species. Thus, they can easily kill off other species in the same area, making them a very strong competitor.

 Clearly, this is an issue because the tawny crazy ants are rapidly reducing the diversity and abundance of insects.  In addition, it is very difficult to get rid of these pests! The tawny crazy ants do not readily ingest the poison bait that we often use to control fire ant mounds. They also don’t form the same type of colonies as other ants, making it difficult to kill a population. They take up a large amount of space and they are not particularly organized; they spread out randomly and have loose trails.   

In short, we find ways to stop this invasive species from spreading becaues they are not only harming us, but they are also harming our fellow Earth residents!

Check out this video showing the aggressive behavior of the tawny crazy ants!!


Don’t you hate when you’re having a wonderful day, strolling through the park, and all of a sudden…a massive swarm of bugs fly into your mouth, attack your eyes, and zooms up your nostrils?

I have shared too many encounters with these pests! They are swarming around when I’m riding my bike, when I’m talking with friends, when I’m rushing to class, but the craziest experience I had was when I was at my friend’s house earlier this year!

Closer image of the gnats at friend’s house. Photo taken by T.J. Wenzel

 One day I go over to his house and his family is crowded around a window. Not knowing what the big fuss is, I walk over, and what do I see? I see the entire windowsill covered in dead gnats! Furthermore, the gnats weren’t just on one window, but they infested three windows! There were so many and it’s still a mystery how all of them got into the house!

The dead gnats on the windowsill. Photo taken by T.J. Wenzel

But what are gnats? Are they pests? Are they bugs? Are they both?

Well, gnats aren’t “true bugs”, but it’s okay if you thought they were, a lot of people make that mistake! Gnats actually belong in the order Diptera while true bugs belong in the Hemiptera order! #themoreyouknow

So why do they swarm your face? According to an article in The Gazette, gnats are attracted to the lachrymal fluids that keep our eyes lubricated.  But don’t worry they can’t harm you. But if you encounter the buffalo gnat, you may be in trouble.  They are known to terrorize and even kill warm-blooded animals in late May and early June. (Another reason for me to stay indoors and surf the internet all summer)  The bite of the buffalo gnat can cause itching and swelling that is far worse than a mosquito bite.

Buffalo gnats are terrifying because they are ACTUAL PESTS! The ones we see around campus are bothersome but they don’t really negatively affect our lives. Buffalo gnats do! They ATTACK cattle, horses, mules, hogs, turkeys, chickens, and pretty much everything else! The scary thing about them is that they are difficult to get rid of! DEET? That won’t scare them. Permethrin-containing repellents? Can’t keep these beasts away! The only pesticide that is known to be somewhat successful would be larvicides (pesticides that kill insect larvae).

So why should we care? Well, these harmful gnats have a huge impact on our lives! They are killing our livestock aka our food and they growing in numbers very rapidly. According to Jerome Goddard, associate extension professor of medical and veterinary entomology at Mississippi State University, he thinks that the cause of the increase in buffalo gnat populations in Mississippi may be due to cleaner water.  Cleaner water attracts the gnats.  Thus, the more efficient we become and cleaning our water, the more gnats there will be! Guess we can’t get the best of both worlds!

We don’t want to simply kill all of the buffalo gnats, but we definitely don’t want them around our livestock, homes, and our water.  So, with further research, hopefully, we can find a better solution to this problem!

Here’s a cool article about allosaurus that has a neat anecdote about gnats!
Also, if you want to see how many could swarm around at one time, check out this crazy video!!


Photo Credit: Charlene Thomas

During the summer, I was fortunate enough to take the EBIO 319 class.  It was a two-week course that took place in the breath-taking and exotic Belize.

While strolling through the magnificent Chiquibul rainforest, we saw longhorn beetles mating! We probably spent a good thirty minutes observing this bizarre sexual encounter!

Before I start, let’s learn more about the longhorn beetles!!

The scientific name for longhorn beetles is Cerambycidae.  Cerambycidae is a rather large family of beetles that consists of thousands of species.  They are worldwide and their range is from sea level up to 4,200 m elevations.  As larvae they feed on decaying wood while adults feed on flowers.  Longhorn beetles tend to live for 1 to 3 years.

The beetles we saw in the rainforest were spectacular.  Black with bright yellow strips running down their back, their exceptionally long antennae… UGH, what a beauty! The antennae were also two different colors.  The base was black and it gradually turned into an orange/yellow color.

The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the female longhorn beetle was much larger than the male longhorn beetle.  This seems odd just because we are so used to sexual dimorphism in the other direction (males being larger than females).  I’m not sure why this is the case, but it would be something worth looking into.

Now to the copulation!

Disclaimer: This is all based on my observations and inferences; I cannot definitively say this is how this particular species of Cerambycidae mate.

First, the male beetle latches onto the female. Once he is secured, she would lead both of them to the “ideal spot” for her to lay her eggs.  Once she found the spot, the copulation would begin.  While they were mating, we noticed that the female longhorn would create a horizontal slit with her mandibles.  Once they finished, they would reorient themselves so that the horizontal slit would be located where her ovipositor was. During this entire process, the male still has a strong grip on the female. Once her ovipositor was inside the horizontal slit, she would begin shaking.  We made the assumption that this was when the female deposited her eggs into the tree trunk.  They would repeat this process numerous times.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t continue creeping on the critters because it was getting dark outside so we returned to the research station.

If you want to learn more about these awesome Longhorn beetles check out awesome websites below!

Click on video to watch the beetles mating!