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Small but nasty

If you were to ask people which environmental factors could potentially cause data loss, most people would say water, fire, earthquakes and so on. It is unlikely that anyone would consider ants to be a risk. There is a variety of ant which can – and has – caused irreparable damage to IT equipment in the USA.

The ‘Raspberry Crazy Ant’. Seemingly insignificant, but the cause of hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over the last decade in Texas, USA. The ants, now identified as Nylanderia fulva, are believed to have originated in South America and have caused such problems that even the leaders of the Johnson Space Centre, NASA, have had to call in exterminators.

The problem with these small creatures is that they have a strange attraction to electrical equipment of all sorts; from cabinets and electrical pumps to air conditioners and computers. And even smartphones! Whether they are attracted to the electrical fields caused by the currents in the wires or the heat generated by such appliances, it is not yet clear, but they are certainly popular nesting places for these ants.

The actual problem arises when an ant is killed by an electric shock. Upon dying, the ant releases a chemical which causes other ants to come in search of attackers. The large clusters of ants then cause more short circuits and sensitive devices can easily be destroyed.

Their ability to infiltrate should not be underestimated either. Cases of smartphones, and even sealed hard disks, swarming with these little critters, have already been reported. Nothing is impenetrable to the Raspberry Crazy Ant.

It just goes to show, you need to be aware of your environmental surroundings and plan for ever eventuality if you are setting up IT equipment, no matter how bizarre!

Image credit: Gotzek D, Brady SG, Kallal RJ, LaPolla JS (2012)

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