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iPod infestation almost dooms New Zealand

Small army on the march

By Charles Arthur, 2 Sep 2005

The iPod's global popularity has been revealed as an agent of environmental destruction in which the entire country of New Zealand was only saved by a quick-thinking owner and his freezer cabinet.

A report on the Pestnet discussion forum, where people in the Pacific region gather to discuss, well, pests, reveals that an innocent Kiwi returning from Fiji to New Zealand bought an iPod in a duty-free zone at the homebound airport. What he didn't know until he got home was that the packaging was infested with Monomorium destructor, aka Singapore ants.

The trouble with M. destructor is that besides being a stinging ant (though not particularly dangerous to humans), it's also a serious pest because it builds large colonies in homes and other buildings. The worker ants prey on other insects and can chew holes in fabrics, plastics and rubber goods, including the insulation of telephone or electrical wires. "We're talking bad dude ants here," commented Adam C. Engst of, who first spotted the story. (See more about these evil things here - there's also a photo in case one tries to mug you).

New Zealand, by contrast, is a country whose economy relies on making food and commodities, and so has very, very tight rules to prevent non-indigenous species being imported by whatever means. (Its airports' sniffer dogs are more concerned with searching for food and fruit than drugs.)

When the (unnamed) owner of the iPod discovered the product's packaging seemed too lively, he got in touch with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, which hit on a scheme that would kill the ants yet, with luck, not the iPod: put them in the freezer overnight. The low temperatures would kill them. The iPod - and this is where you get the "aah, happy ending" bit - did indeed work afterwards (as the iPod can survive the -20C of a freezer, while ants can't).

So with disaster averted, the only remaining question is: where did the ants get into the packaging? Any iPod buyer knows they come shrink-wrapped, so either the ants chewed through the plastic in the airport in Fiji, or got on board before the shrink-wrap came on, during manufacture in the Far East. We got in touch with Bob Macfarlane, of New Zealand's MAF, who posted the information to Pestnet, but he said there were no further details.

But on reflection, it might provide an alternative explanation to what's got into those iPod dancers... were they filmed in Fiji?

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