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Swarming Ants Destroy Electronics in Texas 328

Posted by timothy
from the where's-tiny-ender-when-you-need-him dept.
AntOverlords writes "Voracious swarming ants that apparently arrived in Texas aboard a cargo ship are invading homes and yards across the Houston area, shorting out electrical boxes and messing up computers. They have ruined pumps at sewage pumping stations, fouled computers and at least one homeowner's gas meter, and caused fire alarms to malfunction. They have been spotted at NASA's Johnson Space Center and close to Hobby Airport, though they haven't caused any major problems there yet."
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Swarming Ants Destroy Electronics in Texas

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  • First computer bug (Score:4, Informative)

    by adpsimpson (956630) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:36AM (#23416410)

    Interestingly, the first ever computer bug was also of the 'physical' variety - See here [jamesshuggins.com]

  • Ob. post (Score:4, Funny)

    by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@NOSpAM.barbara-hudson.com> on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:36AM (#23416416) Journal
    I for one welcome our swarming ant overlords - just so long as they stay in YOUR neighborhood.
  • by dintech (998802) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:36AM (#23416418)
    The ants are finally tired of building my Java code for me I see.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Umm? Is this news? My friends living on an island near Cancun, Mexico have this problem all the time... for years...
    • by dotancohen (1015143) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:13AM (#23416814) Homepage
      TFA says that the ants come from Caribean areas, so Mexico would be on the way as well. After reading TFA I'm a little worried for the people in the area, this looks like the start of something major. Typhoon, earthquake, killer ants, what next? Better get Bruce Willis to start astronaut training real soon.
      • by griffjon (14945) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (noJffirG)> on Thursday May 15, 2008 @10:56AM (#23418124) Homepage Journal
        Meh, they eat fire ants; so they're not all bad. If you're lucky enough to live far enough north not to know what a fire ant is, well... good.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Chris Burke (6130)
          Yeah, I'm torn on the issue. After all, anything that kills fire ants is good in my book. But is the cure worse than the disease? They don't have stingers, but they do bite. And they are fast, swarm by the billions, foul electronics and machinery, and are resistant to normal OTC pesticides. Instead of killing the other ants which are the food of the horny toad, it kills ladybugs and endangered birds.

          Fire ants are endemic and cause lots of problems, but they can be somewhat controlled. Who knows how fa
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ArhcAngel (247594)
      This is news for nerds. It didn't become news until they started killing computers. Now we're incensed!

      Glad I live in North Houston. The buggers will never get past Pasadena! Nothing survives Pasadena.....for very long.
  • by Falstius (963333) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:36AM (#23416430)
    Biological cyber warefare! Did anyone check their heads for lasers?
  • by Malevolent Tester (1201209) * on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:37AM (#23416434) Journal
    They're just destroying the electronics that American ants won't.
  • by whoppo (218875) * on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:43AM (#23416474)
    .... just keep 'em out of my beer.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ... I'm impressed, by how fast we could be the losing species on this planet.

    Imagine a plague that we can't control, originating from such an incident. Small swarming animals are very much in advantage here because there is no big target that we could hit, and because they can reproduce in a more flexible way.

    Maybe we should think a bit more about our existence than being arrogant and making "I, for one..." jokes. ;)
  • Invasive Species (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tetrahedrassface (675645) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:46AM (#23416512) Journal
    Yet another fine example of invasive species coming to the mainland on improperly inspected container cargo.

    Fire ants, Killer bees, Chestnut blight, Dutch Elm Disease, Sudden Oak Death (all invasive and here because of lax monitoring).

    No natural predators I bet, and not big news until they spread out across the U.S and degrade the living conditions in your area.

    The US should really have much more stringing inspections of container shipping. We can send a man to the moon but not inspect cargo. right?

    We rely on cheap goods as imports but fail to take into account the true cost of invasive species control. It is huge.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:54AM (#23416588)

      Yet another fine example of invasive species coming to the mainland on improperly inspected container cargo.

      Fire ants, Killer bees, Chestnut blight, Dutch Elm Disease, Sudden Oak Death (all invasive and here because of lax monitoring).
      You forgot Europeans from that list.
    • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:01AM (#23416676)
      Ban imports?

      Go and look at a container ship, then tell me how you propose to inspect it. Have you any idea how many inspectors would be needed, or how long it would take?

      Actually, ants are the least of your worries. It's been pointed out by security specialists that container ships are an ideal way for terrorists to bring in the parts of nuclear weapons. While they're pretending to make things safe at airports, there's a 20-lane superhighway wide open into almost all developed countries, consisting of uninspectable shipping containers and artic trailers. Bomb parts can have their radiation reduced to background levels easily enough, put them in a container full of auto parts and nothing will detect them.

      It's one world, for good or bad, and we have to live with it. Blaming foreigners is unlikely to be productive. These things are a cost that we bear because we no longer live in isolated tribal groups or city states, with an average GNP per head of about 600 1980 dollars, or whatever the last estimate was.

      Realistically, even a 15kt bomb being exploded by terrorists in the middle of NY or Boston would do less harm to civilisation than natural causes do from time to time, and these ants are equally unlikely to do severe long term damage.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Actually, ants are the least of your worries. It's been pointed out by security specialists that container ships are an ideal way for terrorists to bring in the parts of nuclear weapons.

        they don't even try to inspect most containers. you wouldn't have to do ANYTHING, just bolt your bomb down to the nice teak floor in the container and forget about it. Trigger via GPS. No one will notice if the antenna is external if it's on the top.

      • Realistically, even a 15kt bomb being exploded by terrorists in the middle of NY or Boston would do less harm to civilisation than natural causes do from time to time, and these ants are equally unlikely to do severe long term damage.

        I disagree. Let's call it "fortunate" that these ants showed up in Houston suburbs and not elsewhere. What if they had managed to land in the datacenter of a major financial institution? What if it were a nuclear power plant supplying electricity to millions of homes? I realize the former wouldn't result in instant death and destruction like your bomb comparison, but it would grind business to a halt until it was sorted out. Additionally, the latter would be a major issue. Even more so because, due

        • by Intron (870560) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @10:00AM (#23417430)
          "What if they had managed to land in the datacenter of a major financial institution?"

          Then some rich people would lose some money while a bunch of other rich people would make some.

          "What if it were a nuclear power plant supplying electricity to millions of homes?"

          Oh my gosh. Power might go off for 2 days while the problem was sorted out. Do you remember the ice storm in Canada in 1998? Didn't think so.
      • by Corporate Troll (537873) * on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:37AM (#23417130) Homepage Journal

        Realistically, even a 15kt bomb being exploded by terrorists in the middle of NY or Boston would do less harm to civilisation than natural causes do from time to time,

        Yes, but try saying that about 9/11 and see what reactions you'll get by most people. The difference, apparently, is intent. I don't get it either, but 3000 [wikipedia.org] people killed by a bunch of madmen is somehow worse that 15000 to 40000 [yahoo.com] people killed by a natural catastrophe. Heck, the 2004 Tsunami "only" claimed 225000 people [wikipedia.org].

        On the other hand, with a population of over 8 million people, a nuclear bomb isn't even in the same ballpark as the above mentioned earthquake. An unannounced nuclear attack on NYC is going to dwarf regular natural disasters. (Ignoring supervolcanoes and meteor impacts)

        For reference: 10 deadliest natural disasters [wikipedia.org]

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by eth1 (94901)
          9/11 didn't "just" kill 3000 people. It also caused the erosion of rights and privacy for an additional 300 million, and triggered two wars.
          • by Corporate Troll (537873) * on Thursday May 15, 2008 @11:27AM (#23418518) Homepage Journal

            Actually, it triggered only one war. The war on Afghanistan, the other one is in fact unrelated. As far as the erosion of rights and privacy: well, we allowed it, didn't we? ("You", actually, since I'm not a US citizen) Why weren't you on the street protesting to protect your rights? Why aren't you actively fighting to retain and reclaim your rights and privacy? Ranting on slashdot doesn't really count, you know.

            I know it's cliché, but by allowing the government to take away your rights, you let the terrorists win.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Phroggy (441)
              While Iraq had no connection to the attacks on 9/11/01, such a connection was fabricated later. The Bush administration could never have persuaded the American people to support invading Iraq if the 9/11 attacks hadn't occurred.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by failedlogic (627314)
        But they can still cause a problem - though not to the epic proportions of a NCB weapon could. Wether the port city is small or large where the goods are usually imported for consumption by other cities there are a finite number of people in that city, and a much larger number of people to distribute the goods to in other cities. You're never going to be able to inspect 100% of the goods coming in, unless everyone in the port city is a customs inspector.

        Critters and insects still post a problem:
        Bugs and oth
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drooling-dog (189103)
        Actually, ants are the least of your worries. It's been pointed out by security specialists that container ships are an ideal way for terrorists to bring in the parts of nuclear weapons.

        Worse yet, The Terrorists are right now working on transporter beams that they will surely use to wreak havoc all around us. Our only hope to combat this threat is to completely forfeit what remains of our civil liberties and tithe ever more of our incomes to the burgeoning security partnership of government and industry, wh
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dnwq (910646)
      Of course we can inspect cargo. It's just more expensive to do so. Which is greater, the cost of dealing with invasive species or the cost of preventing their entry? Even a minor accident can nullify everything spent on prevention, so inspections must be designed to very very strict tolerances - invulnerable to bribery, bureaucratic laziness, tourists sneaking pets across, etc. Are you really sure you want to spend more on the latter?
      • It is not just the cargo. You would have to inspect every inch of the ship right down to the smallest recess at the bottom of the stairs in the locked filing cabinet in the disused lavatory marked "Beware of the Leopard" and you have to do it all at the same time because the insects move. It cannot be done. You cannot search a ship looking for an insect.
    • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

      The US should really have much more stringing inspections of container shipping. We can send a man to the moon but not inspect cargo. right?
      Sending a man to the moon is much easier than inspecting millions of cargo containers on a frequent basis without significantly increasing shipping time.
  • Voids Warranty? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SpinningCone (1278698) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:47AM (#23416516)
    i used to work for a satellite TV company and insect infestation is was specifically mentioned under the "acts of God" portion of the warranty (more specifically as not covered under said warranty).

    in training there were a few tales floating around of people calling in with their receiver boxes killed by ants.

  • by Critical Facilities (850111) * on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:50AM (#23416540) Homepage

    "paratrenicha species near pubens"


    Is it just me, or does that sound like some type of STD?
  • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:52AM (#23416558)
    For your entertainment [classicshorts.com]
  • Happened to me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by naz404 (1282810) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:56AM (#23416612) Homepage

    I live in the tropics, and for some bizarre reason, this colony of red ants that have taken residence at our place have started making beelines for my PCs

    At one point I was wondering why some keys in my keyboard stopped responding when I found the damn ants had eaten the rubber linings under the keys!

    I've now had to resort to drawing circles of protection around my electronics with insecticide chalk to keep the damn critters out...

    • Re:Happened to me (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mikael (484) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:33AM (#23417072)
      Probably the sweet smell given off by the sealant used to prevent circuit boards from rusting, if not the components themselves (capacitors, coils etc..)

      Even a rinsed out soft drinks can has enough sugar to attract ants.
    • by AceJohnny (253840) <jlargentaye@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:41AM (#23417192) Journal

      I've now had to resort to drawing circles of protection around my electronics with insecticide chalk to keep the damn critters out...
      I draw pentagrams. Keeps ants and demons away!
    • Re:Happened to me (Score:5, Informative)

      by ortholattice (175065) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:55AM (#23417380)
      I don't know about red ants, but for the big black (carpenter?) ants invading my kitchen, the Terro liquid, which I think is just a sugar solution with 5% borax - you could probably make it yourself, but why bother - was a miracle. I had this problem for many years every spring and summer, and those Raid-type plastic "ant traps" that I put all over the place seemed to have no effect at all.

      I put a large drop of this stuff on a piece of cardboard and left it on in a corner of the kitchen counter. Within a day, the ants formed a crowded circle around the drop voraciously drinking it up to the point that their bellies swelled up, with a long line of ants going to wherever under the sink they came from. Over several days they went through a third of a small bottle of the stuff! You could see a few apparently coming back for seconds, weak and shaky. Then they were suddenly gone, totally and completely. This was 2 years ago, and they've never come back.

      The Terro bottle says it's for "sweet-eating ants" - I thought all ants loved sweets, so I don't know what that means.

      • Re:Happened to me (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 15, 2008 @11:22AM (#23418444)
        Some ants like to eat grease and will ignore sweets. For these ants, I mix the Terro liquid with peanut butter or butter (they love butter). The borax works like tiny pieces of glass that tear the ant bodies apart from the inside. Eventually the queen is fed the borax and the colony dies.
    • We had a terrible ant problem in our old office. I remember one occasion when I found the iBook I used for testing swarming with ants. Ick.

      At least we were fortunate enough that there weren't enough ants to really damage anything. I'm glad I don't work in that office anymore.
    • Let me guess, Circle of Protection: Red [trollandtoad.com]?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by consonant (896763)
      Ditto. When I lived in Chennai in India, my laptop would get ant swarms all around. And when did I realize I had lost some of my keys? When I tried to log in, and the OS wouldn't accept my password, 'cos of course, a key wasn't working. Walked over to a neighbour's system, looked up keycode for the 'h' key, walked back and logged in. I got lucky though - the keys for the keycode were not affected by the ants! (FWIW, a ThinkPad service centre promptly replaced the affected keys, blinking a bit at the bizar
  • Not that uncommon. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thornae (53316) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:57AM (#23416626)
    My company often has ant trouble with electronic equipment installed in the far North of Queensland, in Australia.
    Unless boxes are very tightly sealed, they'll get into the electronics and destroy them - usually by creating shorts or damaging PCB tracks.

    We've had a few boards sent back that reeked so strongly of ants that you could smell it through the packaging. Generally, they're too damaged to be worth repairing.

    Anecdotally, I've heard of a number of other companies having similar problems with installations in tropical areas. I'm not sure if it's a problem specific to electronics, or if it's just a case of the ants getting into everything, and the electronics being particularly vulnerable.

  • by rhedi_phredi (526392) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @08:58AM (#23416630)
    But do they eat paper ballots as well as Diebold voting machines?
  • WotW (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fuzzums (250400) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:00AM (#23416664) Homepage
    The chances of anything coming from earth..

    And our flying monsters will be destroyed by something as small as an ant eating it's way through yet an other o-ring :(
  • by Peter Simpson (112887) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:07AM (#23416750)
    Texas A&M page on the ants:
    http://urbanentomology.tamu.edu/ants/exotic_tx.cfm [tamu.edu]
  • Toss a handful into the Directed Sound Weapons being sent to China [slashdot.org]. A dose of the little buggers in routers headed to the Friendly Peoples Republic of Helpful Direct Email Marketers could help cut down on the size of my college-educated penis with it's own collection of faux watches.

    What did they eat before they got Dell-burgers?
  • Phase IV? Anyone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stirz (839003) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:15AM (#23416838)
    This 1970s sci-fi movie immediately came to my mind: Phase IV [imdb.com]. In this movie, some scientist study ants which collaborate to spread in a desert-like area and also start to sabotage the science-lab short-cirtuiting computers and AC.

    scary thing that those creatures really exist :-)
    • by b1t r0t (216468) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @10:26AM (#23417754)

      I didn't think so, because of the lack of poison.

      And that's after actually thinking about Phase IV the other day when I crushed almost a dozen new fire ant queens within the space of about two hours.

      Anyhow, the only thing good about these "crazy ants" seems to be that they kill fire ants. That's it. I don't know if the trade-off is worth it. And I live in Texas, about 200-300 miles from Houston, so of course I hate fire ants with a passion.

  • by HW_Hack (1031622) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:19AM (#23416894)
    don't they know about not messing with Texas
  • by dino2gnt (1072530) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:26AM (#23416978) Homepage
    In 2002 or 2003 while living in Pasadena, my roommate and I were cleaning, and tried to move our N64 from the floor to a shelf. Under it, we found a brown mass which turned out to me a massive clump of these ants. We hosed them in insecticide, cleaned up the mess, and figured it was just a freak occurrence. A few days later I found a similar clump completely engulfing the powerhead on a small tank of cichlids. Being that cichlids will eat anything, I used a water bottle and hosed them all into the tank to be devoured. I had to replace the powerhead afterwards, and the N64 never worked right again.

    The complex wrote it off as a side-effect of the recent heavy rain, and did nothing.
  • by boombasticman (1232962) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:34AM (#23417094) Journal
    In southern india someone stored all his earnings in the form of paper for his later retirement into a bank vault.

    After some years time he looked into his box to see only some pieces left and some bugs which ate his money. The bank vault was not completly tight and the warm humid weather did it's part in this sad drama, too.

    The bank could not be held liable, because it warned its customers of the bug problem long ago. And even when they were liable, they only would have to pay his money for the rent of his box, which is not much rupies instead of his financial damage.

    Morale of the story: Don't think something lasts forever. Your DVD's are due in about 15 years time. HD and Blueray much shorter, so don't store your money on it.
  • Sounds like a deja vu [wikipedia.org]!
  • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:46AM (#23417252)
    A moat filled with gasoline.
    • by jamesh (87723)
      If you try that, nature will respond by evolving an ant that eats gasoline, and then we'll really be in trouble!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 15, 2008 @09:50AM (#23417302)
    My god, will no one think of the rubber tree plants!?
  • Ants (Score:3, Funny)

    by maxrate (886773) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @10:01AM (#23417442)
    Damn you Wesley Crusher and your wild nanites!
  • by Hasai (131313) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @10:23AM (#23417720)
    For some reason, certain species of ants consider wiring insulation delicious, which can lead to some interesting situations.

    Once when I was down in Panama, a swarm of ants got into a street-side power junction box that supplied industrial-class juice to three huge aircraft hangars. The cute little buggers immediate set themselves to devouring all the insulation off of the main power feeds, and when those arm-thick bundles of now-bare copper came into contact. . . .

    BOOM!

    The nearest hangar was five stories tall. The shredded remains of that junction box landed on the roof. And I swear it rained ants for the next half hour....
    :\
  • by QuantumAbyss (1084533) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @10:56AM (#23418120)
    I was working in The Gambia none too long ago. We'd have ant problems there too - they'd eat UPSs, network cables, etc. Real pain. The best way to deal with them when we could was to put the swarmed device out in the sun. For whatever reason they didn't like that. I don't know if this is the same variety of ant, but it might work...
    • Holy crap (Score:3, Funny)

      by oGMo (379)
      Swarm around electronics... general pests... don't like the sun...

      Nerd ants!

  • by antdude (79039) on Thursday May 15, 2008 @11:26AM (#23418512) Homepage Journal
    This has been known for many years. Here are more taken from my personal ant Web site:

    Ants in yer... [synaptic.bc.ca] Pants? NOT! (Toshiba [toshiba.com] notebook/laptop); Ants Invade Apple iBook [slashdot.org].

    Ants In [yahoo.com]
    My Nokia Mobile Phone (A Yahoo! [yahoo.com] account is required).

    Ants in Omniview switchboxes [slashdot.org]: An e-mail story of ants invading a network
    switchbox. Thanks nTrFace.

    Argentine ants invade a network hub [blogspot.com].

    Ants had taken up residence in a guy's external hard drive: Ontrack [ontrackdatarecovery.com]
    and Computerworld [computerworld.com]
    (seen on /. [slashdot.org]).

    A photograph [flickr.com] showing ants nesting in a guy's phone box, affecting his DSL connection and phone system.
  • Article Corrections (Score:4, Informative)

    by mattOzan (165392) < vispuslo AT mattozan DOT net> on Thursday May 15, 2008 @01:57PM (#23421182) Homepage Journal

    The author of this article misspelled the name of the ant. I tried Googling "paratrenicha species near pubens" and came up only with results pointing back to this one article.

    Correctly spelled, the ant's name is "Paratrechina sp. nr. pubens." It has not yet been identified to the species level, hence the "species near" bit.

    Also, what's with this sentence?

    They also bite humans, though not with a stinger like fire ants.

    No insect bites with a stinger. It's two different ends, folks! I frequently hear someone yelp, "That bee just bit me!" No, she stung you. Honeybees don't even have chewing mouthparts capable of biting--they just suck nectar with a siphon-like structure.

    Fun Fact: Only female insects sting, since a stinger is actually a modified ovipositor. Thankfully, mammals like our ladies haven't yet evolved venomous uses for their reproductive parts.

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