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NASA moves to save computers from swarming ants

Attack of the (computer) killer ants: Pests taking out machines along Texas Gulf Coast

May 15, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A flood of voracious ants is heading straight for Houston, taking out computers, radios and even vehicles in their path.

Even the Johnson Space Center has called in extermination experts to keep the pests out of their sensitive and critical systems.

The ants have been causing all kinds of trouble in five Texas counties in the Gulf Coast area. Because of their sheer numbers, the ants are short-circuiting computers in homes and offices, and knocking systems offline in major businesses. When IT personnel pry the affected computers open, they find the machines loaded with thousands of ant bodies.

"These ants are raising havoc," said Roger Gold, professor of entomology at Texas A&M University in College Station. "They're foraging for food, and they'll go into any space looking for it. In the process, they make their way into sensitive equipment."

The ants have been dubbed Crazy Rasberry ants after Tom Rasberry, owner of Budget Pest Control in Pearland, Texas. He first tackled this particular type of ant back in 2002. Since then, the problem has only escalated.

Rasberry told Computerworld that the ants have caused a lot of trouble for one Texas chemical company in particular. Not wanting to name the company, he said the ants shorted out three computers that were running a pipeline that brought chemicals into the plant. The ants took down two computers last year and one in 2006, affecting flow in the pipeline each time.

"I think they go into everything, and they don't follow any kind of structured line," said Rasberry. "If you open a computer, you would find a cluster of ants on the motherboard and all over. You'd get 3,000 or 4,000 ants inside, and they create arcs. They'll wipe out any computer."

The Johnson Space Center called in Rasberry a month or two ago in an attempt to keep the ants out of its facilities. Too late. Raspberry said he found three colonies at the NASA site, but all were small enough to control.

"With the computer systems they have in there, it could devastate the facility," said Rasberry. "If these ants got into the facility in the numbers they have in other locations, well, it would be awful. I've been in this business for 32 years, and this is unlike anything I've ever seen. Anything. When you bring in entomologists from all over the U.S. and they're in shock and awe, that shows you what it's like."



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