BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The fire ant may be a nuisance that many Alabamians face every year, but few know the insect’s history in the state.
In a story published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, reporter Hailey Branson-Potts covered the decline of lizards called “horny toads” across Texas and Oklahoma. In addition to the intrusion of people on their habitat, Branson-Potts says fire ants are to blame for the horned lizards’ dwindling numbers.
“The invasive South American insects were accidentally imported via cargo ship into Alabama in the 1930s and steadily marched across the South, reaching Texas by the 1950s,” Branson-Potts wrote. “They drove out the native, less aggressive harvester ants, which make up the bulk of the horned lizards’ diet.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fire ants came from South America through the port of Mobile sometime in the 1930s, likely in the soil used as ballast in cargo ships.
By 1953, fire ants had spread to 10 states, according to a survey done by the USDA.
Dean Williams, a biology professor at Texas Christian University who runs the TCU Horny Toad Project, told the Times that another aspect of the fire ant’s impact on the horned lizard was they they often attack their buried nests, eating young lizards in the process.