It’s painfully obvious that Texans are dealing with torrential rain, gigantic floods, and an ongoing mega-storm, but here’s something that probably wasn’t mentioned in the weather report: Hurricane Harvey is a nightmare, but the gobs of free-floating fire ant nests and the threat of 350 nuisance alligators escaping the Gator Country preserve aren’t making the situation any easier.
Gator Country is a 15-acre alligator preserve located in Beaumont that houses problem alligators that have come dangerously close to people. You’ve heard stories about alligators appearing in swimming pools and driveways? Well, instead of destroying them or attempting to relocate gators that apparently have no fear of people, Gator Country rescues these wayward reptiles.
The good news is that the park’s collection of crocodiles, venomous snakes, and a pair of 13-foot long alligators have all been safely moved to higher ground. But Gator Country keeps over 350 American alligators in an outdoor pen surrounded by a high fence, and the floodwaters are within inches of overflowing and unleashing hundreds of delinquent gators into the surrounding area.
Gary Saurage, the owner of Gator Country, remarked about the critical problem that the animal preserve is currently facing:
“We’re less than a foot away from water going over the fences,” he said. “All of these are certified, high fences, but when it won’t quit, it won’t quit. We’ve worked around the clock and I don’t know what else to do.”
Reports of gator sightings within the city of Houston have poured in along with the flood, and experts suggest that people should keep a safe distance away from any gators they may come across.
While the alligators have not escaped the park yet, people dealing with severe flood conditions are already dealing with another menace drifting in the streets that is also known for its nasty bite: giant floating clusters of fire ants.
If a colony of fire ants needs to evacuate due to a flood, the tiny insects swarm together to form a shape that resembles a pancake that spreads out and floats on the water’s surface. Fire ants can hold this “colony raft” shape for weeks at a time if they need to, and while it may be temporarily inconvenient for the ants, a flood is actually an effective way for the species to be introduced to new locations.
Unfortunately for anyone who is forced to wade through the already vile flood waters, which are a putrid mixture of swamp water, gasoline, sewage, and other nasty concoctions, flood victims have been known to bump into these floating masses made of hundreds of thousands of vicious fire ants. Oh, and it gets worse:
Linda Bui, an entomologist from Louisiana State University, recalled encounters between Hurricane Katrina evacuees and floating fire ant rafts. “They were like something none of the medical professionals had ever seen,” she said. “I was like, ‘Those are literally fire ant stings on top of fire ant stings.’”
If someone is unlucky enough to bump into a mass of floating fire ants while wading through water, the swarm will instinctively climb onto him all at once. The thousands upon thousands of individual bugs making up the ant raft are already stressed because their survival is literally resting on their tiny shoulders. They will take it out on anything that touches the raft with increased levels of aggression, and up to 165 percent more venom than they would normally deliver in each bite. Oh, and that also means that anyone moving large pieces of floating debris should be careful that it isn’t housing a makeshift fire ant island home — it’s been known to happen!
There is a glimmer of hope regarding the ultimate extermination of fire ants in the Houston area. The fire ant population of New Orleans plummeted when the flood waters finally receded because these ant rafts can only hold their shape for a few weeks. If the ants can’t safely establish themselves on dry land before then, they will eventually sink and drown.
If you come across a floating mass of ants, there is one surefire way to destroy them all at once: Dawn dish soap. Seriously, squirt it all over the pile of floating ants, and the soap will break the surface tension of the raft, causing the ants to break apart from each other, go under, and die.
The threats of rogue alligators and huge bunches of angry ants are an immediate problem, but Hurricane Harvey will provide excellent conditions for other nature-based problems in the storm’s wake. Even when the flood drains, there will be stagnant water all over the place, which is the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. The rancid flood waters could be teeming with any number of infectious microbes, ranging from E.coli to flesh-eating bacteria. Displaced venomous snakes, including rattlesnakes, copperheads, cotton mouths, and coral snakes, are already agitated from the flood, and could unexpectedly wash up anywhere.
If you are ever in the extremely unfortunate situation of having to wade through flood water, please be extremely careful with each step you take…