We all know fire ants as tiny insects that can deal out some seriously painful bites. What many people do not know is that these ants are notorious for destroying electrical equipment. Every year a surprising amount of electric utilities located on public and private property are destroyed by fire ants. The damage that these ants cause can be dangerous, as fire ants can damage electrical forms of infrastructure that make up parts of everyday life for humans, such as stop lights. All ants seem to have an unexplained attraction toward electrical utilities, but fire ants seem more attracted to electricity than any other type of ant. Amazingly, in the state of Texas alone, the cost of fire ant damage to electrical utilities averages at a little more than one hundred and forty six million dollars per year.
A study in Texas revealed that transformer boxes, telephone boxes, circuit breakers, air conditioners and electric pumps are the electrical utilities that are most commonly damaged by fire ants. Telephone boxes accounted for nearly twenty percent of all damaged electrical utilities. Transformer boxes accounted for nearly fifteen percent, but circuit breakers accounted for just over sixty percent of all electrical utilities damaged by fire ants.
There is much controversy concerning the purported factors that contribute to an ant’s attraction to electrical utilities. According to Dr. S. Bradleigh Vinson, after a single ant becomes shocked by an electrical current in an electrical box, the shocked ant waves its abdomen in the air in order to release pheromones. These pheromones attract other ants to the source of electricity. Once other ants arrive they become shocked just by touching the ants that had already been shocked. Eventually, a multitude of ants will surround an electrical box, causing it to malfunction and shut off. Carpenter ants have been found to cause irrigation systems in Florida to malfunction by tinkering with the electrical circuit boards located on the irrigation systems. Despite this noticeable trend, experts still cannot explain the fire ant’s initial attraction to electricity. Ants can also cause short-circuits by chewing through the rubber coating around electrical wires.
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