There's a new bug crawling around that can wreak real havoc on computer equipment. And this bug isn't the kind you get through an email or an infected instant message, but an actual, physical insect. To battle this bug, it's more likely that the Orkin man is the one you'll call instead of McAfee, Symantec or some other computer security specialist.
Dubbed the 'crazy rasberry ant,' the flea-sized pests have been causing power surges and frying computers and other electronics around Houston for days. By some estimates billions of ants have swarmed the area.
Along with crippling computers at some homes and business, this infestation of exoskeleton-bearing annoyances has ruined pumps at sewage pumping stations, destroyed gas meters and caused fire alarms to malfunction, according to the Associated Press. And while no major problems have been reported, the crazy critters have also been spotted at NASA's Johnson Space Center and close to the Hobby Airport.
The crazy rasberry ants, called crazy because of their affinity for moving erratically in search for food as opposed to in orderly lines like normal ants, are a new species believed to have arrived in Houston via a cargo ship possibly from South Africa or the Caribbean.
And these ants, which get the rasberry moniker because it is the last name of the first exterminator to combat them, are also atypical in that it appears over the counter sprays and other pest control mechanisms are futile to thwart them.
Along with their craziness, the hairy, reddish-brown creepy crawlies also have a bizarre love for electronics, invading them in droves and in some cases causing power surges that can render a computer useless. They've been found inside hard drives and caught burrowing into laptops, in some cases making them not work at all.
It's not incredibly clear why these nutty buggers favor electronics, but researchers have said that ants have been known to gnaw through cable insulation on power lines and have been congregating on metal conductors, ultimately causing shorts in electrical lines, junction boxes and traffic and street lights. In the Texas heat, air conditioners have also become a prime target.
And while it's not entirely known where this electric attraction arises from, a study performed by the University of Texas has said that ants, of both the crazy rasberry and other varieties, tend to prefer DC currents to AC currents, though it's unclear exactly why. Other theories indicate that while some ants may be naturally attracted to electricity, others may find crumbs that have fallen near or into a computer or crawling inside to build a nest in a warm, protect spot.
While Houston-based solution provider Reality Works has yet to hear from any clients that have come down with rasberry ant fever, CEO and chief engineer Jamal Thompson said ants fouling up computer equipment and electronics isn't wholly uncommon.
"It's just like with rats," he said. "The ants eat that inner lining of the cable because it's sweet."
Thompson said ants typically go after regular Cat 5 cable that runs on the ground to computers and can also build nests in walls and other areas where cable runs.
"Once they get through the cable they can short it out and kill the computer," he said.