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Electronics-Loving 'Crazy Ants' Invading Southern US 250

Posted by timothy
from the but-ants-are-nice dept.
From an article at the Houston Chronicle (not The Onion) comes a report of concern to anyone in a warm climate with, well, electronics. From the article: "According to researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, invasive 'crazy ants' are slowly displacing fire ants in the southeastern United States. These 'Tawny Crazy Ants' have a peculiar predilection toward electronics as well. 'They nest in electronics and create short circuits, as they create a contact bridge between two points when they get electrocuted they release an alarm pheromone,' says UT research assistant Edward LeBrun. 'The other ants are attracted to the chemicals that other ants give off,' he adds. At this point, more ants arrive and create a larger nest." The L.A. Times also has a report, which says "Thus far, the crazy ants are not falling for the traditional poisons used to eliminate fire ant mounds. And when local mounds are destroyed manually, they are quickly regenerated. 'They don't sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests,' LeBrun said. '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.'"
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Electronics-Loving 'Crazy Ants' Invading Southern US

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  • Try putting a router [slashdot.org] in your house. It might keep ants away too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 18, 2013 @02:34PM (#43763623)

    The problem really relies on the chemical trail ants leave to alert others where to go. If you have an ant problem you need to not only kill the ones present but you need to eliminate the trails they leave. Indoors bleaching the hell out of the surfaces they walk across regularly helps a lot. Out doors you really are screwed unless you want to start digging stuff up.

    • by Nikker (749551)
      What about setting up a bucket with a simple circuit in the bottom that would make it easy for the ants to gather? Put a one way valve on it to keep them in. Once the bucket is full, dispose.
    • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:14PM (#43763873)

      Or as an alternative - when you find an "ant highway" entering your home crush some of them and smear them around the area where they are entering. It may not work for all species, but for most it seems to effectively communicate that this is not a healthy place to be in their native "language". I've never used pesticides of any sort, and rarely have more than a couple brief (under 48 hour) "invasions" per year. Then again I also allow spiders, house centipedes, and other human-harmless predators to live unmolested in my home as long as long as they keep a low profile (my cat does most of the enforcing on that front), so it probably doesn't have nearly the "land of milk and honey" appeal of many modern homes to begin with.

      Probably wouldn't work for crazy ants though, sounds like their death phermones actively attract more ants, though perhaps it's electrocution specifically that has that effect.

      • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki.gmail@com> on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:23PM (#43763933) Homepage

        I've got a place in Florida(the land of cockroaches, more cockroaches, ants, and now invasive species), stepping on ants might work with some species but for most barrier protection works best. And same with plain old baiting to kill them, especially fire ants. Up here in Ontario, stepping on paths works on some of the carpenter ants as well, but not all of them. Doesn't work on the pavement ants all the time either, depends on how hungry they are. You're better off using again a good barrier type spray. In anycase, it'll be interesting to see how we deal with these ones. I'm guessing that if they're that sensitive and drawn to electronics, the answer will be discovering something that drives them away, and just slapping one at your house.

      • by tibman (623933)

        I like your solution!

        My strategy so far is vacuum them up and grab a bottle of woodglue. When you find where they are coming from, just squirt some woodglue into the hole. If they start coming out of another hole you repeat until they are gone. For big holes you can use a scrap of paper like a patch and glue it in place (like in cabinets or utility areas). If they are really bad i break out the bio-warfare traps (but that is rare).

      • The little buggers were on a BBC documentary last week - Nature's Wierdest Shit, or something like that.

        I thought they mentioned on it that they'd found a solution. But I was under attack from the hoglets at the time so I'm damned if I can remember what it was.

        Generally though, if something's attracted to X you can use X or something that emulates it as a decoy.

      • by jrumney (197329)

        For most ant species, the death of a small number will bring the hordes to fight off the attack. The death of a large number will make them retreat and avoid that area for a while.

    • by Donald R. Weimann (54979) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:42PM (#43764071)

      Find the ant mounds and sprinkle some cornmeal around them. They will take the cornmeal into the nest and all the ants, including the queen, will eat it. They can eat it but they cannot digest it so they will all die. If enough people would do this it could eliminate the ant problem. It has worked very well on all of the fire ant mounds that I have doctored in this way.

      • Smart.

        Just to be a bit funny, please don't take personally. Is that GMO or non GMO corn?

        Don't have these new ants around here but we have fire ants galore. And their pretty aggressive. Don't stand in one of their trails they will attack you and try to drive you off.

        • * Before the G-police show up. Yes I know it's they're.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Or if they are picky eaters, just use a mixture of boric acid and sugar, sometimes mixed with water. A puddle sometimes drowns some of the ants so they don't report it back, but a paper towel soaked in it works. The nice thing is boric acid has an lethal dosage for mammals larger than that of table salt, so it is reasonably safe around pets and humans in that quantity, but it is pretty destructive to ants. Straight powder dumped across entrances and trails works really well as deterrent too.
        • I've had mixed results with Borax, but thats not boric acid. It works good in clean closets indoors where sometimes the ants will crawl in and try to nest to keep warm. It doesn't work if a real good food source is near though. Like garbage or a pantry.

        • Someone said they were all over pancake syrup. If so, try this: http://www.food.com/recipe/get-rid-of-ants-ants-ants-203233 [food.com] (boric acid and sugar)
      • Diatomaceous earth also works wonders. Get a bag of "food grade" (yes, it's often mixed into the food you eat) DE and sprinkle around the baseboards where they're coming in. Avoid "pool grade" for your lung health.

        It works like moon dust works on astronauts: it's sticky and microscopic and gets into the joints and cuts up the ants, resulting in their eventual death by dehydration.

        Sam

    • I wonder if that chalk theory works with these ants? I saw something the other day that said simply drawing a line of chalk across the area where ants comes in will stop them from coming that way. The ants apparently don't like the chalk for some reason and won't cross it.
  • by anubi (640541) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @02:35PM (#43763627) Journal
    That is my first concern. If they eat wood, its bad news... really bad news. If they eat other bugs, I am gonna leave them alone.

    If they like termites, where can I get some?
    • by C0R1D4N (970153)
      Pretty certain they enjoy empty soda cans, which are never found near computer desks right?
    • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:34PM (#43764023)

      Sounds like they eat mostly bugs, grains, and small animals.

      For natural pest control may I suggest house centipedes? Those fast, long-legged, grey-brown guys with the racing stripes. They are non-aggressive and typically incapable of stinging humans until they get quite large (they can live for almost a decade), they carry no known human diseases or parasites, and are voracious hunters whose favorite prey include termites, silverfish, bedbugs, and young cockroachs. And unlike ants they're completely uninterested in your food.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Sounds like they eat mostly bugs, grains, and small animals.

        For natural pest control may I suggest house centipedes? Those fast, long-legged, grey-brown guys with the racing stripes. They are non-aggressive and typically incapable of stinging humans until they get quite large (they can live for almost a decade), they carry no known human diseases or parasites, and are voracious hunters whose favorite prey include termites, silverfish, bedbugs, and young cockroachs. And unlike ants they're completely uninterested in your food.

        How about hell no! [davesgarden.com]

        A little bug spray easily manages crazy ants. Bifenthrin or Pyrethrum based insecticides are highly effective. Fire-ant bait is ineffective because they aren't fire ants, thank God.

        • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @05:24PM (#43764595)

          Aww come on, as bugs go it's almost cute. Like the love child of a spider and caterpillar.

        • by TheCarp (96830)

          > A little bug spray easily manages crazy ants. Bifenthrin or Pyrethrum based insecticides are highly effective.
          > Fire-ant bait is ineffective because they aren't fire ants, thank God.

          I haven't had to deal with "crazy" ants, but I had good luck with pyrenthum on a nasty ant problem once. A friend of mine was living in a dorm and came over my place. He brought a pizza box with a number of leftover slices, that had been in his dorm room. We set that in the kitchen and went to hang out in the other room.

      • by tehlinux (896034)

        >may I suggest house centipedes?

        Sounds like someone has never been bitten by a centipede.

        • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @05:08PM (#43764527)

          Hell yes I have (well stung technically, centipedes don't bite). Nasty little bastards. But house cenitpedes are to "normal" centipedes what daddy longlegs are to spiders. As a general rule they can't penetrate human skin to deliver their venom, and they're non-aggressive - as long as you're gentle you can even pick them up and play with them without them trying to attack you.

      • Sounds like they eat mostly bugs, grains, and small animals.

        For natural pest control may I suggest house centipedes? Those fast, long-legged, grey-brown guys with the racing stripes. They are non-aggressive and typically incapable of stinging humans until they get quite large (they can live for almost a decade), they carry no known human diseases or parasites, and are voracious hunters whose favorite prey include termites, silverfish, bedbugs, and young cockroachs. And unlike ants they're completely uninterested in your food.

        Do they win versus tough ants?
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LLEpKi3wcA [youtube.com]

  • ants and electricity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @02:39PM (#43763655)

    I've long noticed that ants seem to have a predilection for electricity. They crawl all over electrical conduits, enter homes at electrical outlets, etc.

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:31PM (#43763993)

      I've long noticed that ants seem to have a predilection for electricity. They crawl all over electrical conduits, enter homes at electrical outlets, etc.

      It's because they can sense electromagnetic fields, which all electronics give off. Of course, the solution for dealing with these new ants is simple, but counterintuitive -- spray everything with this 'alarm' pheremone. If ants navigate by scent trail, and that's how they rebuild their nests, and it's too challenging to remove the scent trails... then you are left with only one option:

      Blind the little bastards by coating everything in it. It's my understanding that, without those trails, they'll be helpless to organize to find food, each other, or even the way home. Everything depends on those trails... so if you overload their sense organs and blind them, they'll perish. After they're dead, the pheremones sprayed will slowly dissipate, but importantly... the trails they've laid down will dissipate faster, so the area is then chemically neutral again.

      It is, quite literally, chemical warfare. (-_-)

    • by Solandri (704621)
      In colder climates, I've noticed heat is an attractant as well. I'd run networking cable through a multi-tenant building and placed a switch in the concrete-floored water heater room. A few years later I got a call saying the network had stopped working. I investigated and when I checked the switch, not only was it full of ants, they'd carried a large number of their eggs and larvae inside. They'd coated the circuit board with some sort of liquid which shorted out the switch (it was completely dead even
  • by houbou (1097327) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @02:44PM (#43763707) Journal
    Even the ants want to travel the electronic highway.. :)
  • Here's a solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by houbou (1097327) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @02:46PM (#43763711) Journal
    Use those old Cisco routers from 10 yrs ago... as ant baits! :)
    • by antdude (79039)

      Ants in Weird/Odd Places:

      Bugs in the computer [ncl.ac.uk]: Sun [sun.com]
      Microsystems, Inc. knows why Brazil is known to its native inhabitants as the kingdom of the ants.

      Ants in yer... [synaptic.bc.ca] Pants? NOT!
      (Toshiba [toshiba.com] notebook/laptop); Ants [slashdot.org]
      Invade Apple iBook; "Yep, those are ants in that laptop" [faildesk.net].

      (Tele)phones: Panasonic Cordless Phone [yuku.com] and Ants In My Nokia Mobile Phone [yahoo.com] (A Yahoo! [yahoo.com] account is required).

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

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

      Computerworld [computerworld.com] on "Ants had

      • by KGIII (973947)

        Leave it to you to post such a response. Much appreciated.

        The funny thing is, I was thinking about your site the other day as I used to go there and check out the new and interesting links pretty much every day. I didn't get around to searching for the URL. Now I can just grab it out of your sig.

        Have a good one.

        • by antdude (79039)

          Thanks! Yeah, I haven't been posting a lot lately due to busy life and not enough time to see and post. :( At least I still stick with quality stuff.

          • by KGIII (973947)

            Well, they are "quality foraged." It says so right in the title. The amusing thing is that I hadn't been to the site in years (probably at least a few years) and it just happened to cross my mind within the past week or less.

            Oddly? I don't even think I found your site through /. or anything, I think I found it when searching for strange links. You've had that site up and running for quite some time now. Other than you, of course, I imagine I've been going there longer than most anyone else unless you want t

  • I know a couple people in Austin who've paid for air-conditioning techs to "fix" their AC. It turns out that a relays in the compressor boxes outside their homes are caked with dead ant bodies, creating an insulating layer. Kinda pisses people off that nothing is actually broken but the service bill is tendered, just the same. ...and, of course, it's 100-degrees outside so it does need to be dealt with promptly.

    • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:07PM (#43763845)

      Kinda pisses people off that nothing is actually broken but the service bill is tendered, just the same.

      There is a bill because there was "service". If the homeowner wants to hassle with tracking down the issue and clean out the dead ants, they can.

    • by khallow (566160)

      It turns out that a relays in the compressor boxes outside their homes are caked with dead ant bodies, creating an insulating layer

      [...]

      Kinda pisses people off that nothing is actually broken

      I don't see that. There was a problem - the AC was broken due to lots of ants. It got fixed. You have to pay the AC techs.

    • by Jaktar (975138)

      I had to replace the contactor in my air conditioner. The little bastards turned it into an ant crematorium. I noticed the problem when the air conditioner was humming very loudly when it was supposed to be off.

      Lucky for me, I found a replacement that is completely enclosed, instead of the partially open design that the original was.

    • by Eyeball97 (816684)

      Kinda pisses people off that nothing is actually broken but the service bill is tendered, just the same

      I'm not quite sure what you're getting at here. They're pissed off because something's NOT broken? Or they're pissed off because they have to pay for somebody's time? Either way they don't sound like very rational people.

  • Bad ant strategy? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by venicebeach (702856) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:01PM (#43763809) Homepage Journal
    Seems like having a predilection for something that kills you is not an instinct that should be selected for. If they are electrocuted by the electronics shouldn't this problem take care of itself sooner or later?
    • Seems like having a predilection for something that kills you is not an instinct that should be selected for. If they are electrocuted by the electronics shouldn't this problem take care of itself sooner or later?

      I suspect that it depends on whether sensitivity to electrical fields is useful in other contexts, or(if not directly useful) at least tightly-coupled to some other sensory mechanism that is survival-critical and will take quite some time to iterate toward an electrically insensitive replacement.

      Mass death upon the power lines is obvious folly; but electrification is, what, a century old(in any ecologically-relevant amount, I know about various independent developers of primitive chemical batteries going ba

    • Au contraire! Where there are electrecuted ants there must be electricity, where there is electricity there must be humans, where there are humans there must be food all over the place. Some ants getting electrecuted is no drama for a hive as a whole, its like clipping nails for you and me. The dying ants wouldnt affect the gene pool even if they survived.
    • by RedBear (207369)

      Seems like having a predilection for something that kills you is not an instinct that should be selected for. If they are electrocuted by the electronics shouldn't this problem take care of itself sooner or later?

      Yes. Absolutely. You and I are in total agreement. This problem will take care of itself quite quickly.

      In fact, within a few short decades all of the electronic devices capable of being entered and short-circuited by endless swarms of ants will have been destroyed, and will become extinct.

      Oh, you thought that endless quadrillions of fast-reproducing tiny insects would be forced to evolve just because a tiny percentage of them get zapped? How amusing. That is not the sort of selection pressure that causes ev

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just put suitable simulated circuits near the ants.

    When a short circuit appears, over voltage the hell out of the bus bar (20KV should do) and vaporize the short.

    Now that the circuit is restored, resume waiting for another.

    You could even be cute and have a delay before applying the over voltage so that the pheromones released have time to sucker a lot more in.

    Hey - this counts as patent prior art - this ones mine.

  • by dorpus (636554) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:14PM (#43763869)

    We just sold a home in Remlap, Alabama. The entire mountain that the house was on was owned by fire ants -- they built underground interconnected cities, so there was no point in spraying a mound. They were aggressive and bit you without provocation. When I got bit, my blood pressure dropped and I felt very ill for a few hours. The fire ants interbreed with local species, so they came in a large variety of appearances. The ones we had were very small and dark crimson, almost black. Their bite was all out of proportion to their size, though. We think they may have interbred with crazy ants because they liked to walk crazy zigzag paths.

  • Good idea! (Score:5, Funny)

    by SeaFox (739806) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @03:51PM (#43764127)

    "...as they create a contact bridge between two points when they get electrocuted they release an alarm pheromone," says UT research assistant Edward LeBrun. "The other ants are attracted to the chemicals that other ants give off," he adds.

    What kind of survival mechanism is that? "Oh! There's danger over there. Let's all go check it out..."

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      What kind of survival mechanism is that? "Oh! There's danger over there. Let's all go check it out..."

      Yeah, they are the Red Shirt ants.

    • Re:Good idea! (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @04:49PM (#43764411) Journal

      "...as they create a contact bridge between two points when they get electrocuted they release an alarm pheromone," says UT research assistant Edward LeBrun. "The other ants are attracted to the chemicals that other ants give off," he adds.

      What kind of survival mechanism is that? "Oh! There's danger over there. Let's all go check it out..."

      Given that(among the ants that don't have even cooler mechanisms, like specialized suicide soldiers who blow themselves up to shower the enemy with toxins) "swarm the enemy and keep biting and stinging without regards for casualties until nothing that isn't us is still moving" is considered a valid strategy, the chemical signalling actually makes sense: If an ant from another colony, or a predatory insect/arachnid, attacks a single ant, the ant's body automatically releases the alarm pheremone and the attacker gets zerg rushed.

      It's just that, against implacable electronics that are totally indifferent to anything except being insulated by the uncounted bodies of the slain, this tactic doesn't work very well(see also: mammals that 'freeze' to avoid predators; but discover that cars aren't visual hunters; but they do kill anything that gets in their way)...

      • by idunham (2852899)

        It's just that, against implacable electronics that are totally indifferent to anything except being insulated by the uncounted bodies of the slain, this tactic doesn't work very well(see also: mammals that 'freeze' to avoid predators; but discover that cars aren't visual hunters; but they do kill anything that gets in their way)...

        Ah, but it does work well. When it stops working or is insulated in dead ants, the ants have done their job.

    • Re:Good idea! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Hognoxious (631665) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @05:43PM (#43764679) Homepage Journal

      It's more like "Someone's in our base killing our doodz. Let's go give him a good shoeing!".

      Also, soldier and worker ants don't reproduce. The way they propagate their genes is by proxy, through the queen, so that explains their willingness to sacrifice themselves to protect her - hence the banzai charge. The genetics of ants (and wasps & bees) is odd. If you're one of the sterile castes the queen is more related to you than you are. Or something like that.

  • So the good news is Fire Ants won't sting you to death because Crazy Ants are replacing them. The bad news is that Crazy Ants sting your gizmos to death.

    What about putting some mild chemical in electronic coatings that ants don't like? They would then be less likely to hang out on gizmos.

    Unlike pesticides on fruits, there is no "incentive" to become immune to such chemicals because there is no benefit to hanging out on electronics to begin with.

  • by M0j0_j0j0 (1250800)

    My router is a CISCO, should i worry too? any advice from you the computers people?

  • You had me at.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @04:44PM (#43764397)
    You had me at "They don't sting like fire ants do...".
  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @05:09PM (#43764537)
    The more I hear about things like this and other interesting "wildlife" problems in the warmer parts of the country, the more I'm glad I live where it snows.
  • We used to sprinkle instant grits around red and and fire and nests. They'd eat the grits, their stomachs would rupture, and they would die.

    Does anyone know whether this might also work on killing nests of crazy ants?

  • As long as the fucking soldier ants stay outside i'm fine.
  • if only there were some organism in nature that was a natural foe of invading ant armies.

  • They'll short the instruments!
  • ...ever invade other parts of the world and cause problems? I seems that this must happen, but I never read about it.

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