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The Floating Masses of Fire Ants That Could Be in Tropical Storm Cindy’s Wake

It’s happened before.

For the past few days, Tropical Storm Cindy has been raining down huge amounts of water on Gulf Coast states, most heavily on Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Twelve inches alone have come down on Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

In many places that rain has created flooding, a phenomenon residents down south are all-too-familiar with. They may be less familiar with floating masses of fire ants, which authorities recently warned also may be happening this year.

The masses form when red ants’ natural homes—soil—become overrun with water, which leads ant colonies to make themselves into floatable balls, which then drift on top of the water, hoping to reach dry land.

“These amoeba-like masses contain all of the colonies’ members—worker ants, brood (eggs, larvae, pupae), winged reproductive males and females, and queen ants,” the Alabama Cooperative Extension System said on its website.

Fire ants can be deadly in the most severe cases but usually aren’t, though as ACES says, “If ants contact the skin, they will sting.”

So, what to do? Don’t touch them, obviously, but also don’t touch them with your oar if you’re in a rowboat. And wear rubber boots and gloves if you’re walking in flooded areas or in structures that were recently flooded, since the ants may have transplanted and found new (indoor) homes while you were gone.

One expert told the Washington Post that the ants can stay in a ball for up to 12 days—which means that residents may have to stay vigilant until early July.

Be careful out there.