Why 'Crazy Ants' Swarm Inside Electronics
By Douglas Main | June 25, 2013 01:08pm E
Exterminator Mike Matthews got the call because the home's air-conditioning unit had short-circuited. Why an exterminator for a problem with an appliance? Because of the crazy ants.
Matthews has seen crazy ants disable scores of air-conditioning units near Austin, Texas, where the invasive creatures have been a real headache. The ants swarm inside the units, causing them to short-circuit and preventing them from turning on. Often the switches inside them need to be replaced, thanks to the ants, said Matthews, who works for the Austin-area pest control business The Bug Master.
"When you open these things up, you see thousands of the ants, just completely filling them up," Matthews said.
The ants first appeared in the United States in 2002 but have become more of a menace in the past few years, spreading to many areas of the Gulf Coast, particularly Texas and Florida. The ants are obnoxious because they reproduce in large numbers, sometimes outnumbering all other ants 100-to-1. That's a problem since ecosystems depend on a wide variety of ants to perform different tasks; domination by one species is highly unusual, said Edward LeBrun, a researcher at the University of Texas. As the ants have advanced into new habitats, they've had the annoying habit of swarming inside electronics, like air conditioners and farm equipment likes pumps and occasionally destroying them, LeBrun told LiveScience.
But why are these insects attracted to these devices in the first place? [Image Gallery: Ants of the World]
One reason is that crazy ants are always looking for cavities to nest in — unlike most ants, they don't excavate their own holes and tunnels, beyond minimal expansion, LeBrun said. That is also the reason they move into people's houses, nesting in any area with protected holes and cavities, such as the insides of walls and in basements and crawlspaces. Their small size, less than an eighth of an inch in length, allows them to crawl inside cellphones, computers and appliances, which all are home to protected cavities and are "just great" for these ants, Le Brun said. Most commonly, they swarm inside sheds and pumps in rural areas, which has been a problem for industries in Texas and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, he added. When the crazy ants enter these devices their bodies can create connections between electrical contacts, which can lead the circuits to short out and electrocute the ants. This causes them to release an alarm pheromone, a scent ants use to communicate that they are "under attack," likely attracting the ants' kin to come and fight, LeBrun said. This creates a vicious cycle that can leave appliances broken and full of dead (and angry) ants.
Their sheer abundance also adds to their destructive power. In one case, the ants quickly spread to 90 out of 150 air-conditioning units in an apartment building in Waco, Texas, Matthews said. That infestation took about two months to control, he added.
They're commonly known as the tawny crazy ant, so-called because of their color and their "herky-jerky" pattern of foraging — or "going everywhere at once," as LeBrun put it. This makes them extremely annoying for homeowners. It also doesn't help that the ants aren't attracted to one commonly used ant bait. So exterminators have to use different kinds of baits, as well as liquid insecticides, Matthews said.
Crazy ants first showed up near Houston in 2002, but they weren't indentified until last year as Nylanderia fulva, a species that hails from northern Argentina and southern Brazil, according to a study in PLOS ONE. Their identification took so long in part because their workers are identical to a related species called Caribbean crazy ants, which showed up in Florida and were initially confused for the tawny crazy ants. They were previously known as Rasberry crazy ants, named after the exterminator Tom Rasberry who first recorded their presence near Houston. [Alien Invaders: Destructive Invasive Species]
In perhaps a good bit of news for Southern residents, the crazy ants can't spread quickly on their own, and rely on humans to spread them via infested materials like rotting wood, LeBrun said.
But in areas where crazy ants are found, they often drive out native ants, leaving only other invasive ants behind. That's because most native ants tend to have larger bodies, whose tunnels the crazy ants can more easily invade (ants can't penetrate ths nests of ants with smaller bodies).Most invasive ants tend to be smaller.
In some places, the crazy ants have also driven out invasive fire ants, which are slightly bigger. In many areas where this has happened, residents actually miss the fire ants, which have painful stings but generally leave people alone unless their large mounds are disturbed, LeBrun said. But not so with the crazies. Luckily, the tawny ants don't sting, and their bites aren't very painful, he added.
What is short-cycling?
When an air conditioner turns on and off rapidly over a short period, it is known as short-cycling. This bad news for an air conditioner for a numbers of reasons:
Why does poorly installed equipment often cause short-cycling?
Many different errors in AC installation can trigger short-cycling, but the most common mistake is that the AC company failed to accurately engineer the proper size of the new system and put in one too large for the house.
My AC isn’t keeping my house cool - why won’t my AC keep up?
While there may be a problem with your AC that requires diagnosis and repair from a licensed HVAC Contractor, it may surprise you to learn that the problem may or may not be your air conditioner’s fault.
Here are two problems that YOU may be creating:
Problems with the AC unit itself that prevent it from keeping up:
Problems with your home that can prevent your AC from keeping up with the heat:
If your AC needs to be replaced, now is the best time to have it done so you can beat out the coming heat. Below are times to consider air conditioner replacement:
You might think that a thermostat is “just a thermostat,” and it doesn’t really matter which one you have installed in your home because they all pretty much work the same, but the type of thermostat you have controlling your home’s heating and cooling system can make a significant impact on performance, affecting both household comfort and energy bills. When you are looking for a thermostat installation, you need to give the choice some thought. We have advice to help you locate the ideal thermostat for your home.
First, Get Rid of the Manual Thermostat
Manual thermostats (sliders n’ dials) were the standard for years, but they are outdated today—especially since even no-frills digital models are competitively priced. A manual thermostat is much less accurate than a digital one, has no additional features for convenience or energy savings, and can cause accidental short-cycling.
You can choose a non-programmable digital thermostats (set it and forget it), or a programmable digital thermostat, which is a critical way to ensure that you save energy and don’t have the AC or heater running when it shouldn’t be.
Wi-Fi Is a Great Feature
A Wi-Fi thermostat allows you to control your home’s comfort system from a smart phone, laptop, tablet, or other Wi-Fi enabled device. This gives you even more control over conditions in your home. Imagine going on vacation and thinking you left the AC on: you can find out if did right on your smart phone and then turn it off if necessary.
What About a Self-Learning (“Smart”) Thermostat?
The newest technology in thermostats offers some amazing capabilities, such as the self-learning NEST thermostat that will program itself based on your patterns. Ask an HVAC technician about the options available to find the best possible recent advances that will fit within your budget.
Why thermostat location makes a major difference
A thermostat is where the comfort system in a home registers the average temperature of the building so it knows when to active the fan, compressor, burners, heating elements, etc. that provide conditioned air to the rooms. If the thermostat is registering temperatures that do not accurately reflect the average temperature of the home—what are called “ghost readings”—it will cause the HVAC system to behave oddly. The result will be a home that’s too hot or too cold, as well as a spike in the homeowner’s energy bills.
The 3 most common thermostat placement mistakes
Why Does My Air Conditioner Freeze Up?
When we see ice or frost on something we automatically think “cold”, so this must be good thing for an air conditioner, right? Wrong! If your air conditioner is freezing up, or you see frost or ice on parts of your AC Unit, usually on the compressor or lineset, there is a problem and you need to call someone for air conditioner repair. Note that coils start freezing the interior evaporator coil, travel down the lineset and to the outdoor compressor, so if you see your outside lines frozen, it is 10 times worse inside.
The most common reasons for an air conditioner freeze up are:
What Should I Do When My Air Conditioner Is Already Frozen Up?
AC is Making Grinding and Clicking Noises When It Starts:
Odd noises coming from an air conditioner are a way that the system warns the homeowner that it needs immediate service. There are many different abnormal sounds that can indicate you should call a professional air conditioning technician: clanging (a bent fan blade), screeching (worn down bearings in the motors), lights dimming when unit starts, excessive heat coming off the outdoor unit, or clicking sound probably from the contactor, which is the component responsible for sending voltage to the compressor motor to start it running.
Although your air conditioner may still turn on and provide you with some cooling when it is hard-starting, it is something you want repaired as soon as possible. A hard-starting AC will cost more to run, and the extra stress placed on the motor and compressor will soon lead to damage. Damaged motors will need replacement. If the compressor becomes damaged, it often means that the whole air conditioner needs replacement.
Signs Your Air Conditioner Is Leaking Refrigerant:
It’s easy to mistake AC refrigerant (also called Freon, which is a brand name) for a type of fuel, like the gasoline in a car. Refrigerant is not an energy source the air conditioner consumes to run since an AC’s energy source is electricity. Refrigerant allows the air conditioner to move heat from inside your home and then exhaust it outside. To do this, the refrigerant goes through a cycle of evaporating and condensing. It doesn’t dissipate as it switches between liquid and gas stage, so an air conditioner should use the same amount of refrigerant, which is called its charge, for its entire service life. Your air conditioner shouldn’t “run out” of refrigerant under normal conditions. The only way for the refrigerant level (its charge) to drop is from leaks. Many ACs may develop leaking along the copper refrigerant tubing as a side effect of the amount of VOC's in the air or discontinued drywall products. The important thing is to recognize the signs of this occurring and call for repairs right away.
Leaks along the refrigerant lines or at connection points will permit the refrigerant to escape, and the charge of the AC will drop. This is bad news! Not only will your air conditioner be less effective at cooling your house, but it will eventually lead to damage to the compressor. This is where you’ll need our professional HVAC help. We’ll use special tools to locate the leaks and then seal them. After that, we’ll take care of adding refrigerant to the system to make up for what was lost. It’s vital that you let our trained and licensed professionals do this: we’re certified by the EPA to handle refrigerants, and we’ll make sure your AC has the right refrigerant level, since overcharging an air conditioner is just as bad as one with too little refrigerant.
Air Conditioning Installation, Service and Repair in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston Parishes