Feeds

They WANT to EAT YOUR COMPUTER - welcome your ANT overlords

Whole corner of America faces life without computers

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

A massive horde of computer-killing "crazy ants" are invading the southeastern US, killing other species as they go.

New research released today in the journal Biological Invasions warns the aliens have wiped out at least one other ant invader, the exotic fire ant, but are also targeting local ants with deadly precision. More worryingly, if you're a human, the tiny terrors also pose a threat to humanity due to their predilection for swarming into electrical machinery in huge numbers and destroying the circuitry.

The beasties earned the nickname crazy because they dart around erratically and quickly, rather than taking the calm, sedate paths favoured by other ants. They are also referred to as tawny crazy ants due to their natty colour scheme.

For fans of El Reg, the ants' unexplainable taste for all things tech is likely to be their most terrifying characteristic. Once they move into a house, they swarm everywhere, occupying every space they can in frightening numbers. Then, for reasons no one fully understands, they swarm into machines and chew away at the wires. Once an ant is electrocuted, it releases a signal calling other ants to help it, which can quickly result in a ball of dead ants inside a circuit, with thousands of ants cramming in and ruining the device.

They are known to have brought down sewage pumps, messed up computers and were even considered a threat to NASA's facilities at the Johnson Space Centre, in Houston.

The fire ant species - also an alien invader - isn't exactly popular itself, because it delivers a horrifically painful bite which is reputed to be as painful as a burn. But homeowners may find themselves yearning for the good old days of nasty, bitey fire ants if they find themselves invaded by their crazy cousins.

Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research programme at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in the College of Natural Sciences, was the lead author of the study.

“When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back,” said LeBrun. “Fire ants are in many ways very polite. They live in your yard. They form mounds and stay there, and they only interact with you if you step on their mound.”

The crazy ants were first identified in 2002 by a pest controller in Houston, and have since spread out to 21 counties in Texas, 20 counties in Florida and have been seen in both southern Mississippi and southern Louisiana.

In 2012, the ants were formally identified as the species Nylanderia fulva, which is native to Argentina and north Brazil. In their native countries, natural predators keep them in check, but in the US there are no checks on their population growth, meaning they can achieve population densities 100 times greater than fire ants.

“They don’t sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests,” LeBrun added. “There are videos on YouTube of people sweeping out dustpans full of these ants from their bathroom. You have to call pest control operators every three or four months just to keep the infestation under control. It’s very expensive.

“Perhaps the biggest deal is the displacement of the fire ant, which is the 300-pound gorilla in Texas ecosystems these days. The whole system has changed around fire ants. Things that can’t tolerate fire ants are gone. Many that can have flourished.

"New things have come in. Now we are going to go through and whack the fire ants and put something in its place that has a very different biology. There are going to be a lot of changes that come from that.”

On top of their general madness, crazy ants are also very difficult to kill. They don't appear to be affected by traditional insecticides and even if one colony is killed, another one from the area can quickly fill the space.

The crazy ants are the latest in a series of ant invasions from the south, stretching back to the arrival of the Argentine ant in the late 19th century. The ants are mostly carried through human activity, so experts suggest that travellers try to avoid carrying them inadvertently. Left to their own devices, the ants can only move at about 200 metres a year, but human activity means they move significantly more quickly.

Currently, the crazy ants prefer wet climes with mild winters. There's no word on whether they prefer Macs or PCs. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.