back to article They WANT to EAT YOUR COMPUTER - welcome your ANT overlords

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 …


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  1. Frankee Llonnygog

    It's no joke

    One data centre thought they'd combat these wee beasties with spiders. The inevitable chain of events followed, and the data centre ended up being swallowed by an old lady.

    She's dead, of course.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's no joke

      Being from the southeast, I'm very much aware of these pests. It's not all electronics they are interested in, but just some electrical and moisture. So, you could put a keyboard in the yard. They would never touch it. But a relay for , say a well motor, or an electrical outlet, and they swarm it. I don't know what the difference is between a wet computer verses an outlet, but there is and that's what they want. They especially are a problem in electronics for A/Cs and wells. They crowd the relay contacts (nothing else electrical in or around the area) and get crushed, preventing the relays from closing.

      I deal with them the same way I deal with fire ants, I purchase a spray bottle of ant killer (Home Defense MAX) once a year and spray around all items (thus my multiple years of experience with them.) every 6 weeks.

      All other electronics, my pump, salt water machine, lights, etc...... no problems. Relays and outlets..... it's like they are committing mass suicide.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's no joke

        If possible, get some Roach-Proof (boric acid) and sprinkle that around the affected devices. Lay it down pretty thick - like you are the Winchesters laying down a circle of protection from demons. Arthropods don't like the stuff - it gets into their joints and tears them up, causing them to dehydrate, as well as getting into their spicules and choking them.

        1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

          Re: It's no joke

          Diatomaceous earth should also be effective. It abrades the coating over their chitin and they dehydrate.

        2. Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's no joke

          Erm, boric acid works on ants as a stomach poison. It doesnt affect their joints in any way at all....Furthermore, they wont ingest it unless its mixed with a sugar or protein based food (honey/peanut butter).

          Besides, Quantum Maxforce (Imidacloprid) will deal with the entire colony....

          1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

            Re: It's no joke

            We always mixed 3 parts boric acid powder with 1 part confectioner's sugar to treat for roaches. I'd try that. If they don't go for it, try tweaking the mixture a bit. Make sure to keep pets/kids WELL away from it.

          2. peyton?

            Re: It's no joke

            Actually, ants (and surprisingly roaches as well) are very hygienic, and will frequently clean themselves and each other. In the process, they will usually ingest some of whatever is on them.

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: It's no joke

        I would guess they react either to something outgassing from the plastic, or the electrical field - even a small field is going to play hell with ant antennae.

        Simple enough to test, though. Dump some electronics in the garden without power, see if they are attracted.

      3. Nigel 11

        Re: It's no joke

        If they're attracted to relays and motors (?motors with brushes only?) then I'd hazard a guess that it's Ozone or

        Nitrogen Oxides that attract them.

  2. stucs201

    Call for Ponder Stibbons

    We obviously need to start building computers like Hex instead of messing around with electronics.

    (The robe and point hat. Pass my staff while you're at it, yes the one with the knob on the end)

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: Call for Ponder Stibbons

      And there are people wondering where all the bees are.

      They are working on the replacement of the replacement of Deep Thought.

  3. Notas Badoff

    Why's your bugzapper sitting on the ground?


    You don't use bugzappers for ants!


    Wow, look at that thing sparkle....

  4. Anonymous Сoward

    If they like the taste of circuit boards, why don't we make them out of something that doesn't attract these things?

    Maybe we can expect pesticide sprayed PCBs at the factory whilst they think of an alternative.

    1. easyk


      A PCB is made up of sandwiches of epoxy, fiberglass and copper. I doubt ants can sense glass or copper but they might be picking up a chemical signal from the the epoxy. A small change to the epoxy chemistry might put them off.

      It is not clear to me that they are attracted to the PCB though. It could be a chemical signal from wire insulation or something to do with electric fields. Some research is required. No matter what it probably doesn't make economic sense to make special electronics for what is now such a small market segment. Some other mitigation is needed.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: maybe

        Research is definitely required. This is far more interesting than some of the utter crap that gets funded, simply proving or disproving the ants being able to detect EMF would be worth the research, not that this sort of testing would be particularly expensive!

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: maybe

          Did you see the list of states affected?

          Any research into the evolutionary behavior would have to conclude that Jesus did it.

        2. Graham Hawkins

          Re: maybe

          If the link was proved, we could make them all little tin-foil hats....

  5. Don Jefe


    Maybe they eat stink bugs. That would be something at least.

    Fire ant bites do hurt terribly bad they can also be deadly to house pets. My girlfriends, at the time, dog was bitten to death by a disturbing a bunch of them. Poor thing, I couldn't do anything to help it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's a documentary on this.

  7. Jemma


    Ye gods, how many things can you get wrong in one article? RIFA sting, they dont bite, except to anchor themselves (they then sting in a cute little circle). The venom is the second nastiest after pogomyrmex (itself a 10th as nasty as taipan venom, think a mid range viper or a uk Adder) and its primary danger in humans is either venom overload or anaphylaxis. Add to this that theyre aggressive little sods that make asiatic bees seem positively cuddly and you begin to see why theyre so nasty. Oh and they also love electrics too, traffic lights being a particular favourite..

    Fulva has a secret weapon in that it is one of the super colony ants - RIFA colony is based on a single queen, Fulva colonies have several and related colonies act & react as one. In the wild these can cover large areas and crowd out even species like RIFA.

    1. Francis Boyle

      Count yourself lucky

      Given El Reg's record in entomology I'm surprised they weren't described as termites.

    2. Mark Tribble

      Re: Sigh..

      Thank you for your informative post. I was going to write a similar post explaining the nature of the sting and its effect, but you covered most of it already. One sting is bad. But if you accidentally step on a nest, you can get hundreds of stings at once.The venom is a combination of toxins, histamines (they cause allergic reactions), and formic acid. It causes a small, very painful blister, and the surrounding skin is also irritated. The blisters take about two weeks to heal. Words like "fire" and "burning" only begin to describe the effect.

      Most of the nests I've seen were adjacent to or underneath logs and boards on the ground. The ants also fill up junction boxes if there are conduits leading to the ground. The boxes I've seen were filled with moist dirt. I'm not sure if the ants were eating the wires, but the moisture ruined the electrical parts.

      1. Yet Another Commentard

        Re: Sigh..

        Interesting. The thing that surprises me most is that this is an American thingy, and not Australian, given the antipodes predilection for dangerous creatures. Or are they worse down there?

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Sigh..

          > Given El Reg's record in entomology I'm surprised they weren't described as termites.

          That would have meant mentioning Space Marines, and then Copyright Violations Against Space Marines, and then we would be off on a tangent with Andrew.

          Seriously, these ant invasions are weird. It's almost as if an alien intelligence wanted to take us out with better and better engineered stuff .... like in Philip K. Dick's Expendable. Maybe we should talk to the spiders.

        2. Gray Ham

          Re: Sigh..

          I think we have colonies of these things in Australia too ... I seem to remember some time back hearing about it. But not in Canberra, they can't hack the cold winters.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Sigh..

            >But not in Canberra, they can't hack the cold winters.

            Or the politicians

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sigh..

            "I think we have colonies of these things in Australia too ... I seem to remember some time back hearing about it. But not in Canberra, they can't hack the cold winters."

            I am surprised at how docile the big native ants in Canberra are. Friendliest ants I've ever come across.

            1. Gray Ham

              Re: Sigh..

              I think you mean the sugar ants - they don't sting. But, you have probably not met any jumper ants yet ... very nasty sting, big jaws to hang on with and most certainly not docile!

        3. bep


          Well, we get the home team, such as Bullants, and the visitors, such as Argentine ants, so there's plenty out there to ruin your picnic. Some species seem very attracted to hard drives (spinning disc so magnetic field?) and once they arrive they are a bugger to get rid of.

        4. Martin Budden Silver badge

          Re: Sigh..

          Fire ants do exist down under, they have been accidentally imported to the Brisbane/Ipswich area. It is not yet clear whether their painful fiery bites are responsible for the hair colour and annoying voice of Pauline Hanson.

          1. LaeMing
            Thumb Up

            Re: Sigh..

            My manager has an ant colony in her monitor. In front of the backlight, it appears. They keep re-arranging their nest overnight, making the bottom corner of her screen look like a really really slow lava lamp.

            1. Crisp

              Re: My manager has an ant colony in her monitor.

              Awesome! How much do you have to pay for one of those?

          2. Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sigh..

            Remember Pauline Pantsdown?


  8. Efros

    Reg cruelty

    Your Gorilla is malnourished he used to be 800lb.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Reg cruelty

      Texan pounds are 3x as big as everyone else's.

  9. Elmer Phud

    Feed them

    " 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"

    Another use for old machines. Combined with a bug-zapper inside, just replace when full.

    (do they prefer 60hz or something?)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Feed them

      Yep. Nuke it from the Data Center Control Room, it's the only way to be sure.

      1. Grave

        Re: Feed them

        aaand we're done for, replicators are here :)

  10. graeme leggett Silver badge

    Phase IV

    when they start attacking your home by overloading your aircon, it's too late to worry.

    1. hplasm

      Re: Phase IV

      Just squirt them with different coloured paint!

      Anyone have any idea just what that was about??

  11. Stevie


    Okay, here's an El Reg style answer to the problem: Why not spoof this "signal" the ants send out when taking killer-volts up the mandibles?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      The "signal" is a release of pheromones, specifically a "distress" pheromone - not an electrical signal. "Spoofing" that pheromone would mean synthesizing it.

      In normal conditions, the idea is "that which kills one of us may kill all of us, so let's kill it first!". Great, if what is 'killin joo doods' is something that can be killed, like an anteater. Bad, if it cannot, like a high voltage circuit.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Bah!

        But clearly the point is, the circuit can be killed so the strategy works!

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: Bah!

        So let the ants spoof it. Lay some stripboard, hook alternating tracks up to live and neutral mains with a suitable limiting resistance, and put it in an enclosure to keep kiddie-fingers out. Ant goes in, ant goes pop, more ants are attracted, cycle continues. You won't wipe out a whole colony with an ant-trap, but even just killing a few thousand ants will slow their growth and make them a bit more manageable.

      3. Stevie

        Re: Bah!

        ""Spoofing" that pheromone would mean synthesizing it."

        Yeeeees....your point is?

  12. Christoph

    No problem

    They're in Texas - just sue them because chewing up computers has been patented and the patent sold to a troll.

  13. Aqua Marina


    So do we replace the family dog with an anteater?

    The article doesn't mention what the natural predator for these things is, but mentions there is one?

    1. Jemma

      Re: Solution???

      There are various - including rather egregarious fungal infections, parasitic wasps and other insect cuties. If you want something mammalian as a pet thats RIFA safe may I suggest the Pangolin? Comes in a nice shade of brown with full body armour plating as standard... Think a cross between a Jack Russell and a Tiger Tank...

      1. AndyDent
        Thumb Up

        Re: Solution???

        "cross between a Jack Russell and a Tiger Tank..." Based on that description alone, I want one.

        Can they live on anything other than these ants or do I have to import a colony too?

        (Australian joke alert - we have a distinct wariness of importing species after a little thing called the Cane Toad was brought in to combat an annoying beetle).

        1. Stevie

          Re: Solution???

          Cane Toad? *Cane* Toad? Pah! Luxury! I got m' Clever Person Certificate from UEA and the place were overrun wi' Coypus brought in by Victorians frum South America t' manage banks o' Norfolk Broads.

          Bloody things were size o' beavers an' med noise like human baby cryin'.

          Cane Toad. Pfft! You soft southern hemisphere jessies.

      2. Kubla Cant

        Re: Solution???

        Upvote for "a cross between a Jack Russell and a Tiger Tank" - brilliant.

        But "egregarious"? Seems to a combination of "egregious", meaning "standing out from the flock", and "gregarious", meaning "running with the flock".

      3. sisk

        Re: Solution???

        After that description I had to look them up. Jack Russell + Tiger Tank indeed, with a bit of cute thrown in.

      4. Chairo

        Re: Solution???

        If you need a pangolin you could simply install ubuntu 12.04...

  14. John 78

    Macs or PCs

    > There's no word on whether they prefer Macs or PCs.

    You would think they would prefer apples.

    1. dodgydave

      Re: Macs or PCs


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Definitely PCs

      They're (thankfully) leaving my two apple trees alone, but I can't keep the damn things from trying to swarm through my wIndows. A worse nuisance than Conficker ever was.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another sign of Climate Change?

    "native to Argentina and north Brazil"

    Driven north by Global Warning?

    - OK, OK, more research needed...

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Another sign of Climate Change?

      At 200m per year, starting in Argentina, the global warming in question would be the end of the last Ice Age.

  16. Dr Dan Holdsworth
    Black Helicopters


    Now there's something I can comment on, what with having a PhD in pheromones.

    Actually, from our perspective, a pest which has an alarm pheromone is actually a really easily-defeated pest; all you do is synthesise either the exact alarm pheromone, or preferably something that is even more effective. Then you simply spray the pests with the alarm pheromone, which alarms them a very great deal. The alarm response is hard-coded; they can't not respond to it, and they cannot get bored and go away; while ever there is alarm pheromone present the ants HAVE to be alarmed.

    Whilst they're alarmed, they can't really do much else; no feeding, looking after young, cleaning the nest and whatever; they will simply run round like crazy looking to attack stuff. Repeat dosing of alarm pheromone, then putting out alarm pheromone-doped flypaper ought to sort the sods out; that and putting out bait laced with juvenile hormone synthetics.

    Juvenile hormone is a lovely, lovely thing. Insects normally have a larval or non-adult phase, followed by an adult phase. While in the juvenile phase, the juvenile hormone keeps them from developing adult characteristics. Spray an area with persistent synthetic juvenile hormone (or better yet, put out ant-bait laced with the stuff) and the colonies then suffer ant developmental problems, including an inability to breed; this has already been demonstrated agains Pharaoh's Ants. I should add here that juvenile hormone has absolutely no effect on humans or indeed any vertebrate at all.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Pheromones...

      "juvenile hormone has absolutely no effect on humans or indeed any vertebrate at all.

      Are you sure? I've seen a lot of Chavs who seem to have been affected (or at least dont appear to have left the Juvenile state). Although, it doesnt appear to have harmed their ability to breed (unfortunately)...

  17. Superavi


    is fighting back...!

    (From Avatar (Shamed to have mentioned Avatar in this forum, that's why I'm getting my coat!))

  18. dodgydave



  19. taxman


    someone will make a film based on this. You know the sort of thing. Man vs ant. Try all sorts of methods to kill off the ants and they in turn retaliate by eating through the electrics, fusing the air conditioning, building crazy structures that reflect the sunlight.....

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    When ants become a nuisance you need a maven.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time to wheel in

    the giant magnifying glass.

  22. sisk

    At the risk of offending the Apple fanbios...

    You've got a species that mindlessly flocks to whatever electronic device they hear is the place to be, consequences be damned. Clearly this is a species that prefers Macs (and other Apple devices) over PCs.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: At the risk of offending the Apple fanbios...

      Why worry about offending them???

      Drinking ant poison has never done me any harm (gibber gibber).

  23. Anonymous Coward

    And here you thought Adobe and Oracle had brought you enough bugs!

  24. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Yes, but ...

    ... do they eat Linux?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't NASA safe?

    After all, isn't their tech all vacuum tubes and steam?

  26. skib
    Thumb Down

    Singapore ants

    When I lived in Western Australia some Singapore ants killed my computer's hard drive. They seemed to like the insulation of electrical wires in general, but when it came to the hdd there was some kind of foam between the circuit board underneath and the metal case. They were going crazy for that stuff, and also followed the wiring up into the drive itself. Did not sound very nice when I next started it up.

  27. Alexander Hanff 1
    Thumb Up

    Phase IV

    Amazing movie about evil, intelligent Ants. If you haven't seen it, it is a must.

  28. BarryP

    In Soviet Russia....

    I ran experiments on fire ants (Solenopsis Invicta) and their behaviour in the presence of

    electrical fields at University and whilst the reasons were not clear why they behaved

    differently the phenomenon is well recorded. It was known as far back as the 1950's from studies

    in Russia that small organisms don't like electrical fields. It was published in Russian initially and not well known. In essence it said if you plot a graph of smallest insect size you can spot versus distance to electrical pylons you get a direct correlation. I.e. really small gnats and the like stay well away, medium insects

    stay a fair distance and only big things like birds go really close.

    I always thought we should use this by putting ugly pylons down the middle of motorways to

    prevent fly’s hitting windshields.

    Now these ants seem to do the reverse by being attracted to strong electrical fields but at least last time I looked people were thinking of using that to build traps.

  29. d3rrial

    Home Security

    Wow, good thing I don't live there... If I had a house there, I'd dig a burrow around my house, fill it with kerosene constantly and have it burning 24/7 :D

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