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Tropical storm brings unexpected danger: Feisty ant piles

Wednesday, September 23rd 2020, 12:55 pm - Just one more reason to avoid swimming in floodwater.

There are a lot of hidden hazards in floodwater -- debris, bacteria, and downed powerlines among them -- but here's one you might not consider.

Fire ants. Lots of them.

Officials in League City, Texas released a video on Tuesday, showing floating piles of fire ants in a local park as the area dealt with flooding from Tropical Storm Beta.

“This is one of the reasons why you should avoid walking through flood water,” officials said in the tweet.

“Floating ant piles – like this one found at Countryside Park – can form and be very dangerous.”

That day, a flash flood warning was in effect in the community.

NOT AS RARE AS YOU MAY THINK

Finding potentially dangerous insects -- or something larger -- in floodwater isn't as uncommon as you may think.

Floating fire ant pods were also seen in Texas 2017 after Hurricane Harry dropped trillions of gallons of water on parts of the state.

“Fire ants are capable of building what we call ‘self-aggregations,’” David Hu, biomechanics researcher at Georgia Tech, told the Smithsonian in 2013.

“They can build little boats, little houses called bivouacs and even bridges to cross streams by being the building material, linking their bodies together and forming strong networks.”

Here's a pro tip: If you ever see a fire ant -- or land or floating in the water -- it's best to stay away. The invasive species packs a painful sting that feels like, you guessed it: fire.

NOT JUST ANTS

In July 2019 officials in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana issued a public warning on Facebook about the dangers of swimming in local flood waters from Hurrican Barry, because it was crawling with critters, like alligators and snakes.

If the area you live in has high water, watch out for snakes and other critters who are trying to escape the flood waters as well. #SlidellFire

Posted by St. Tammany Fire Protection District #1 on Saturday, July 13, 2019

MORE RAIN FROM BETA ON THE WAY

Beta

Beta weakened to a tropical depression on Tuesday as it crawled across Texas, but dropped heavy rains that caused widespread flooding, forcing dozens of people to evacuate.

In Houston, schools, courts, and other businesses were forced to close due to the floods. Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena told Reuters there had been more than 60 rescues and evacuations of people stuck in Beta-induced floods, most of them from vehicles stalled on water-logged streets.

The storm is expected to move over southeastern Texas through Wednesday, then through Louisiana and Mississippi Wednesday night and into Friday.

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