Research Warns of Crazy, Computer-Eating Ant Invasion

| 20 May 2013 15:35
giant ant

They've already wiped out the fire ants, now they're coming for your Dell.

Consider, for a moment, the fire ant. We don't like fire ants, largely because they're notoriously aggressive little turds known for their exceptionally painful bite. The good news, for those of you who live in the southeastern US, is fire ants are being wiped out by a competing species of ant. The bad news is that the competing species, Nylanderia fulva - dubbed "crazy ants" because they dart around erratically - not only attack and kill other ants, they also have a penchant for swarming into electrical machinery and eating the circuitry.

Yep; computer-eating, crackhead ants. Great.

The crazy ant was first spotted back in 2002 by a pest controller in Houston, but the species wasn't officially identified until last year. According to a recent paper from researchers at the Texas invasive species research program at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in the College of Natural Sciences, the ant has since spread to 21 counties in Texas and 20 counties in Florida. They've also been spotted south of the Mississippi and in Southern Louisiana.

"When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back," said Ed LeBrun, one of the researchers who penned the paper. "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."

Crazy ants, however, don't give a toss about your personal space. They swarm wherever they can, occupying any enclosed spaced in large numbers. Naturally, they end up filling up electrical equipment, and that's where things get weird. For reasons we don't yet understand, the ants have a tendency to chew through electrical wires. When they reach the delicious electricity underneath the wire's rubber coating, the ants are electrocuted, but in their death throes they release a signal calling other ants to attack the wire. This results in uninsulated wires surrounded by balls of crazy ant carcases, which, if you'll forgive the pun, isn't conductive to the device's operation.

Even better, the crazy ants are difficult to kill. They're resistant to traditional insecticides and destroying one colony doesn't discourage others from expanding and taking its place. Much like the fire ant, the crazy ant isn't native to the US. In its native Argentina and North Brazil, there are several predators that keep the crazy ant under control. Not so in the good ol' US of A.

"Perhaps the biggest deal is the displacement of the fire ant, which is the 300-pound gorilla in Texas ecosystems these days," said LeBrun. "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."

Source: Biological Invasions via The Register

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