MARSHALL, TX (KLTV) - The fun, but quirky, Fire Ant Festival in Marshall draws thousands of tourists each year, they even dress like the critters.
"For years and years now we've had an ongoing battle with fire ants," said pest control expert Darren Horton.
"I've been very involved with fire ants in many ways," said Connie Ware, with the Marshall Chamber of Commerce.
But now Texas A&M researchers say they may have the answer to getting rid of fire ants. The pinhead size phorid fly is native to South America, where the fire ants originated, and kills ants by laying eggs in them and letting the larva ingest their brains.
The fly lays its egg in the ant and over a months time the larvae eat out the inside of the head. Eventually the head falls off and it's just an empty shell.
The ant will get up and wander for about two weeks while the larvae feeds, but without the fire ant, what will the festival do?
"You can celebrate a dead rock star but you can't celebrate a dead fire ant," said Ware. "Yes, we're feeling threatened. Well, have you're brains sucked out and head fall off, that's not a good way for even a fire ant to go. Whether you live in the country or the city you have to fight fire ants every year. I'd rather poison them than suck their brains out."
The biting, territorial fire ants cost the Texas economy about $1 billion annually in damage.
But Horton hopes the project is only partially effective.
"Well, I hope it's not effective," said Horton. "We definitely need the ants so I can have a place of business. If they eliminate the fire ant, what are we going to do for a festival."
They may have to change with the times.
"If we need to change gears and have a fly festival we can do that," said Horton.
"It sounds like genetic engineering to me or a really bad 'B' movie," said Ware. "We're very attached to our fire ants here."
The phorid fly has been introduced under controlled conditions since 1999, with good results. But more research must be done to make sure the species doesn't have an adverse effect. So far researchers say they do not attack native ants or other species.