The Difficult white-footed ant, Technomyrmex difficilis

The Difficult white-footed ant, Technomyrmex difficilis

“There’s far too much wildlife in the suburbs” I heard a woman say the other day. She shuddered, and her face wrinkled up as if there was cat poo under her nose. I didn’t want to start an argument, so I said nothing at the time. But this same urban wildlife is probably my favourite thing about Brisbane. I love living in a seething subtropical jungle. My enthusiasm is only slightly dampened in the vegie garden – when caterpillars eat their way through the kale overnight, and fruit flies turn tomatoes and capsicums into soggy bags of maggots. Or when I find an ant nest in an expensive electrical device.

A couple of weeks ago I opened the lid of my scanner and found an ant farm. Under the glass, countless tiny black workers were scurrying every which way, and others were tending hundreds of creamy-white eggs that had been laid on the black plastic floor of the machine. Oh dear. I had been dimly aware of a trail of ants crawling across the wall behind my computer screen, but I don’t like killing things, so had just let them be. There was no food in my office, so what could a few ants do?

Trying to think like an ant, I took the scanner outside and left the lid open. I was hoping that the increased light would make the scanner undesirable as an ant nursery. The ants got very active, started moving their eggs, and I could see them coming out of the power and computer cord sockets. It looked promising.

After about 24 hours I couldn’t see any more ants. Hooray! I thought they had moved out. I took the scanner back inside, and tried to scan something.

Oh dear. This was the result:

scanned ant art

Scanned ant art – all those black things are ants!

The ants had moved all their eggs out of the light. But there were still lots of ants and eggs in the rest of the scanner – including the carriage-thingy with the light that moves across when something is scanned. O.K., time to get serious. I consulted Dr Google. Others had posted similar woes on computer forums – ants in scanners, ants in photocopiers. But sadly, the only suggestion was to spray the ants with poison and throw away the electrical device. I thought this was pretty dumb – the only way to fix the situation was to persuade the ants to move out.

But I didn’t think I could open the scanner without breaking it. Fortunately, the lovely Ray came to the rescue and managed to take the scanner apart. And then we left it outside again.

Ants in the scanner

The scanner disassembled – with ants

The ants soon got organized, and forged a trail over the hills and far away. They worked most of the day and night, going back and forth and gradually, steadily, carrying egg after egg away from the now light, cold and drafty scanner. I cheered them on, and apologized for the inconvenience. Here’s a video of the ant-evacuation:

After two days, I couldn’t see any more ants. Fingers crossed, I reassembled the scanner, and tried to scan something. It worked perfectly.

The beautifully-named ‘Difficult white-footed antTechnomyrmex difficilis was the ant that set up house in my scanner. It’s one of the so-called ‘tramp’ ants that have traveled the world in recent decades, spreading beyond their native habitats. The ‘Difficults’ are native to Madagascar, but are also found in Asia, North America and the Caribbean. They live in the tropics and subtropics. I wonder what route their ancestors took to get to Australia? They have an interesting social structure that I only half understand. Their success at invading seems related to the ability of numerous young teenage mothers (not Queens) to move out of the main colony and form multiple satellite colonies. But that’s another story – maybe another blog?

The message of this story is: When ants invade an electrical device, don’t just scream, and kill them all with poison. That’s really dumb. Think like an insect, and try to persuade the ants that the electrical device is not a great place to raise their children. If you do it right, the ants will move themselves and their eggs out, and will probably clean up any rubbish too. They’ll start a new life somewhere else, you’ll protect your karma by not killing anything, and you get to keep your electrical goods too.


Wetterer, J. K. (2013). Worldwide spread of the difficult white-footed ant, Technomyrmex difficilis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News, 18, 93-97.