The worst devastation caused by Hurricane Florence is likely to come in its aftermath, from flooding, contamination, and now... fire ants.
Pesky fire ants, known for their aggressive behavior and painful stings, are an invasive species in the Carolinas, and they are known for being rugged survivors. In fact, they are especially adept at surviving floods, capable of banding together to create "rafts" that float like a Noah's Ark until the waters recede and they can rebuild their colony.
So massive fire ant rafts are a thing. And there are already reports of of these dangerous insects wreaking havoc on people unfortunate enough to encounter them in the floodwaters.
NBC News' Gadi Schwartz released footage of one of these ant rafts on Twitter:
Millions and millions of fire ants forming islands and floating on flood waters. #HurricaneFlorence pic.twitter.com/iLZoMugmZI
— Gadi Schwartz (@GadiNBC) September 17, 2018
The rafting behavior is actually a remarkable adaptation. The raft exterior is largely composed of workers, who protect the core of the ant colony on the interior: eggs, larvae, the queen, winged ants, etc.
As soon as the rafts touch solid land, which might be a boat or a person's skin, the ants will immediately latch on and could swarm whoever is in their path.
The behavior is terrifyingly described in a Texas A&M report about the dangers of encountering these rafts in the aftermath of a flood: "If they manage to touch your skin, they'll immediately start biting and stinging, as they are usually wont to do. It's important to rub them off immediately - submerging them won't work, as they'll just cling to the skin. Even a high-pressure water spray might not remove them."
Yikes! The problem is especially hazardous because these ant rafts tend to look like regular debris when they are floating in the water. It isn't until you get right up to one that you can see that the cluster is alive.
Needless to say, residents stuck in floodwaters are being told to stay away from any debris, and if you're in a boat, steer clear of these swarms.
Residents should also be wary of fire ant colonies after the waters recede, as fire ants tend to build their colony back up wherever their rafts land. So there could be new colonies in unsuspected areas, including playgrounds, backyards, or parks. Be careful out there!