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GRIFFIN, Ga-- An ant with origins in South America has been spotted traveling in masses in Georgia. University of Georgia Extension agent James Morgan discovered the ant in August when the director of an assisted living facility called for help.

"What I found was thousands of dead ants in a pile in the corner of the bathroom," Morgan said. Up until now, tawny crazy ants have only been found in a few counties in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. In those areas, they're considered a major nuisance because they're attracted to electricity and travel in masses. At the assisted living facility, the ants were traced back to an area full of appliances.

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Morgan describes the ants as reddish in color, very tiny, and "they run around and scurry really fast. They don't march in a straight line."

Large accumulations of the ants can cause short circuits and clog switching mechanisms, which can result in electrical shortages in phone lines, air conditioning units, chemical-pipe valves, computers, and security systems.

Dan Suitor, Extension specialist in urban entomology, confirmed the identification (officially Nylandria fulva). "Most people will be overwhelmed by the number of tawny crazy ants they'll find. It'll be through the roof. They'll come into your house, and it becomes kind of 'ant from hell' scenario," he said. Suitor also said once an ant species gets established, it's really hard to dislodge them.

The tawny crazy ant doesn't sting like a fire ant, but it probably has a mild bite, Suitor said. The ant can also spray small quantities of formic acid, which may irritate individuals.

The piles of dead tawny ants are so large; they're described as snow drifts. "They can be inches deep in a pile," Suitor said. "When they get up and going, the numbers that doe will be in the tens and thousands."

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