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‘Super colony’ of ants with a painful bite close Crane Prairie Campground

They are good ecologically, but 'spray acid into the wound when they bite someone'

(Update: Adding video, comments from Forest Service, camper)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A popular campsite west of La Pine will only have one type of guest, for now: ants, with a nasty bite that's best to avoid. 

Crane Prairie Campground is closed until June 11, to deal with millions of thatching ants.

Debbie Johnson was hiking while staying at Crane Prairie Resort when she discovered the signs and caution tape over the campsite. 

She said she's camped there before and noticed ants, but not like this. 

"You know, not this big, and we didn't know there was a huge problem,” Johnson said.  “I mean, we saw piles when we were here two years ago, but this year everything was closed up."

Close to 150 ant colonies have appeared all over the campground, with each of the colonies containing between 10,000 and 1 million ants.

The colonies are composed of branches, twigs and other objects made into a mound. 

The largest of these colonies at the campground can get up to four feet high and nine feet long.

Only 10 percent of the colony is actually above ground, meaning most of the ants and the colony is underground. 

Forest Service entomologist Rob Flowers classified these ants as a "super colony," a case he's only seen one other time.

"The sheer numbers of colonies closely together like this is kind of a unique situation," he said.

Flowers said typically when there is a large number of colonies, they become competitive with each other.  

He said these colonies are all “siblings,” meaning they are aware of the other colonies and live symbiotically. 

He said the ants themselves can be good. "For the most part, they're doing an ecological service,” Flowers said.

But colonies this size will defend themselves from anyone within 10-15 feet of it.

"The worker ants will rush out of the nest, and they will basically bite and use a little bit of acid. They spray acid into the wound when they bite someone,” Flowers said. "Having worked with them quite recently, I'd say it's not pleasant to get bit by these things."

Flowers said they plan to try a number of removal methods, including excavation, bait traps and flooding, over the next few seasons.

He said the campsite could reopen soon, as long as people are made aware of areas to avoid.

"Hopefully, just by some education, people will be able to stay away from those as best they can and sort of let them be,” Flowers said.

He says a long-term solution will take many months and most likely will be done in the colder months, when the ants are dormant. 

Johnson said she's already looking forward to coming back.

"Well, I hope they can take care of the problem and open up, because we want to get out and camp and have fun again,” Johnson said with a smile. 

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.


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