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Houston braces for invasion of 'Crazy Ants'

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Tom Rasberry, a Houston-area exterminator, is credited with the discovery of the "Rasberry Crazy Ant," a destructive insect that has spread to 27 Texas counties. (AP)

This is one horror film plot that may be all too real: Billions of voracious ants are about to descend on the Houston area, destroying entire homes and anything else that gets in their way.

Rasberry Crazy Ants, even more destructive and mobile than their angry cousins, fire ants, are just weeks away from descending on the largest city in Texas. Since 2008, the ants, which entomologists believe came to Texas from South America aboard a cargo ship in the 1930s, have expanded their presence to 27 counties from just eight. Once in a home, they zero in on electrical systems, chewing through insulation and causing short circuits and general havoc. 

“I’ve been in houses where every time you took a step you’d literally be stepping on thousands of ants with each step,” exterminator Tom Rasberry told FoxNews.com.

“But when all is said and done I guarantee you, you’d rather have the fire ants because they are much easier to deal with.”

- Tom Rasberry, Texas exterminator

The hairy, reddish-brown ant is named after Rasberry because he was the first one to spot the insect in a Houston suburb in 2002.  The ant, also known as the Tawny Crazy Ant, is even known to fight the fierce-stinging fire ant, another Texas scourge. Dormant until late April, Rasberry Crazy Ants thrive as temperatures heat up, prompting fears of a new advance in the coming weeks.

Other crazy ant swarms have been spotted in 20 counties in Florida and locations in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Rasberry said the ants get into everything, including electrical equipment. They’ve ruined laptops, water pumps and gas meters.

“They’ve gotten into electronic systems in chemical plants and shorted-out equipment that forced the plants to shut down entire units,” Rasberry said.

NASA's Houston headquarters had a crazy ant infestation a few years ago.

Rasberry said crazy ants reproduce so quickly that in no time a one-acre field can be covered by 15 to 20 billion ants.

Crazy ants don’t sting or bite like fire ants. But that makes them no less of a threat, said Rasberry.

“When all is said and done, I guarantee you, you’d rather have the fire ants because they are much easier to deal with,” Rasberry said.

Paul Nester, a program specialist with Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension Services, provides Houston area homeowners with tips on how they can protect their homes from the ants. He suggests removing mulch, potted plants and wood piles where the ant can thrive.

“They’re just really a true nuisance ant,” Nester said.

He said pesticides work best if the infestation has not gotten out of hand.

Nester said he has been to some homes infested with crazy ants where it looks as if the ground is moving.

“Then you look at a fencepost and they are running up the fencepost and across the fence,” he told FoxNews.com.

Nester said that can be frustrating for homeowners.

“This can cause so much emotion in people dealing with it that they’re at their wit’s end,” he said. “It can be traumatic for homeowners because they just don’t know what to do.”