Friday, May 16, 2008

The Friday Challenge - 5/16/08

This week's Friday Challenge is, as they say, ripped from the headlines! Specifically, this headline:
Billions of electronic-eating 'crazy rasberry ants' invade Texas
Which, you have to admit, is a whole lot more exciting than this headline:
Ants swarm over Houston area, fouling electronics
Or this one:
Crazy Rasberry Ants Menace Electronics In Houston
At least InformationWeek had the grace to start the story with a different lead:
Computer users in Houston may encounter more bugs than anywhere else in the country.
Everybody else settled for running a slight rewrite of the wire service story:
It sounds like the plot of a farfetched science fiction movie. Unfortunately for the residents of Texas, it is very much a reality: billions of tiny reddish-brown ants have arrived onshore from a cargo ship and are hell-bent on eating anything electronic.

Computers, burglar alarm systems, gas and electricity meters, iPods, telephone exchanges – all are considered food by the flea-sized ants, for reasons that have left scientists baffled.

Having ruined pumps at a sewage facility, the ants are now marching towards Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre and William P. Hobby airport, Houston, putting state officials in a panic. “They’re itty-bitty things, and they’re just running everywhere,” said Patsy Morphew, a resident of Pearland, on the Gulf Coast.
Actually, the above load of bombast, exaggeration, and hyperbole came from the UK Times. A somewhat calmer and more factual version can be found in, of all places, The Chicago Tribune:
In what sounds like a really low-budget horror film, voracious swarming ants that apparently arrived in Texas aboard a cargo ship are invading homes and yards across the Houston area, shorting out electrical boxes and messing up computers.

The hairy, reddish-brown creatures are known as "crazy rasberry ants" -- crazy, because they wander erratically instead of marching in regimented lines, and "rasberry" after Tom Rasberry, an exterminator who did battle against them early on.


Worse, they, like some other species of ants, are attracted to electrical equipment, for reasons that are not well understood by scientists.

They have ruined pumps at sewage pumping stations, fouled computers and at least one homeowner's gas meter, and caused fire alarms to malfunction. They have been spotted at NASA's Johnson Space Center and close to Hobby Airport, though they haven't caused any major problems there yet.
There is some good news. The little buggers eat fire ants. But they also seem to be clever little devils. Not only are they resistant to common pesticides — and it's not enough to kill the queen; like San Francisco, their colonies have multiple queens — they also ignore the bait in conventional ant traps, and when you do manage to poison them, the survivors pile up the bodies of their dead and use them to build bridges over areas treated with pesticides.

The official story is that this is a previously unknown invasive species, accidentally imported from the Caribbean about five years ago. Yeah, right. The official story. Like we believe that.

And there's your challenge for this week. What are they — really? Where did they come from? What's their mission? Who do they work for? Why are they slowly but inexorably heading for the Johnson Space Center? And who, excluding Hillary Clinton in spandex, can stop them?

You have until Thursday, May 22 to solve this mystery, and save the world...