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Jan 02 2013

Briefing from the radioactive badlands of the American Southwest, 1954

[We are fortunate to have this transcript, taken by a company stenographer, from one of the early efforts of the resistance to instruct an army company in tactics. Although we now have more sophisticated technologies to hold these invaders in check, it is instructive too see how the American military in the 1950s struggled to cope with an unusual enemy, a struggle that was described in an excellent documentary produced by Warner Bros.]

Men — and ladies — the purpose of this briefing is to instruct you in the basic anatomy of the enemy. We have lost many soldiers to the assumption that these are just elephant sized beasts and that this is an exercise in big-game hunting; post-mortem analysis has found that many wounds that appear as if they should be instantly lethal actually miss major organs and allow the monsters to rampage on relatively unimpaired. I am here to shake up your assumptions and give you better targeting instruction so that you will more effectively kill the enemy.

Get this out of your heads right now. These are not overgrown familiar animals. These are giant ants.

Another purpose of this briefing is to teach you to respect the enemy. You may consider ants to be nothing but unpleasant nuisances, easily squashed without a moment’s thought, but these creatures have been endowed by their creator — or produced by millions of years of evolution — with unique traits that make them hardy and resilient, and in their new enlarged form, almost as hard to take down as a small tank. Do not underestimate them!

One thing we will not be discussing here is how these monsters came to be. In fact, the University eggheads are all telling us that it’s impossible for insects to grow so large, and mumbling about radiation and mutations and other such technical talk. We don’t give a damn. They’re here, and our mission is to slaughter them, root out their colonies, and exterminate the entire goddamned species, because this is America, and we aren’t going to stand by while big bugs eat our sweet American children.

The first thing you need to know about these big bugs is that they’re heavily armored. Their entire body is covered with thick sheets of a material called chitin — it’s a carbohydrate, chains of sugars, like the cellulose found in wood. It’s also a complex composite material, infiltrated with other substances like calcium carbonate to form rigid shells. It’s flexible, lightweight, and tough — our scientists are already working out its structure to build carbon fiber composites that will form the military armor of the future…but right now, the bugs are way ahead of us in armor technology. You’re going to have to crack that armor to kill them.

The bad news? Your handguns aren’t going to make a dent in this stuff, and even your M1 carbines don’t have enough punch to get through. Fragmentation grenades occasionally stun them, but mostly do little damage. It takes sustained fire from a .50 cal Browning machine gun to break through that armor, or better yet, use a 75mm recoilless rifle. Anything less, you’re just tickling them.

The other bad news? Let’s say you’ve got enough firepower to bust through that armor. What are you going to hit?

This is a standard military paper target; you all trained on this, and you know what to shoot. A head shot; instant kill, you take out the target’s brain, and it goes down and doesn’t move. Chest shot; major point of failure, the enemy dies instantly if you take out its heart, and if you miss a little bit, you blow out its lungs and its incapacitated and is going to bleed to death. Gut shot produces major trauma and bleeding, is probably going to kill the target eventually, but in the meantime, the shock puts them out of combat.

None of that is true for giant bugs. The hallmark of bug anatomy is redundancy and distributed functions. Sure, they’ve got a brain, and it’s roughly about where you expect it to be, between the eyes: but if you get through the armor, if you manage to get through the thick, rubbery swaddling of the massive jaw muscles that surround the brain, and you manage to blow it up, it’s got another one below its jaws…and then it’s got a chain of them in its chest. In fact, you may be in worse shape, since the front brain seems to be involved in restraint and inhibition. Take it out, and you’ve got a frenzied giant ant, a creature that will start charging around the battlefield like a chicken with its head cut off…an 8-ton armored chicken with claws.

Your best bet is to target the thoracic nerve complex: aim for where all those legs join the body, and blow that sucker up. It may not kill it instantly, but it will cripple and immobilize it.

What about shooting the heart and lungs? More bad news: they don’t have lungs. It’s another distributed system, with a network of tubes infiltrating the tissues to carry oxygen to them. Every goddamned little pore on their body is basically a nostril, and every contraction of the muscles flexes the cuticle like a bellows and draws air inside.

They do have a heart…or rather, hearts. There’s another chain of them running along the back of the thorax, about where your spine would be. However, they also have an open circulatory system: the hearts just push bodily fluids around, sloshing the insides with that yellow green stuff called hemolymph, or bug blood. All of that breathing and blood pumping stuff is integrated with muscular activity — you do the same thing to a lesser degree, with muscle contractions in your legs that push blood back to the heart, and coupling of breathing to arm movements — but bugs do it better. Their whole boxy armored body is a big pump that moves fluids and gasses around as they run and shred and fight. There is no single point of failure, no one critical target analogous to what we humans have — you can slow them down and impair them by blowing off big chunks of their bodies, but there’s no one weak spot that can flatten them.

Are there other organs that are points of weakness? Nope. No liver; instead, they have a tissue called the fat body, which is distributed under the cuticle and around the guts. Distributed, again. Kidneys? A kidney shot can incapacitate a human because they’re highly vascular organs with a sustained high internal blood pressure; bugs have ropy tubes called Malpighian tubules sloshing about in the hemolymph, without a particularly high pressure blood system. You can gut-shoot an ant — in fact, you can blow off that entire big gut structure called the gaster at the end of the body — and while it will eventually starve to death, it’s not going to be slowed at all.

Face it. These magnificent bastards are tougher than you are, better designed for combat than you are, and uglier and meaner than you are. All the tools and skills you’ve been trained in for killing people aren’t going to work on these brutes.

That’s why the company is being issued this: the M2 Flamethrower. It’s the perfect weapon against bugs, because instead of relying on damaging a single point of weakness, it causes massive systemic damage — distributed destruction for a resilient distributed system. We’ve also had great success with napalm air strikes on surface nests, but to root out the enemy takes soldiers invading their nests and taking the fire to the queen ant’s chamber, burning out the enemy at every step. It’s bug hunt time, and you’re going to be taking cleansing fires into the tunnels of your foes.

[Tragically, this company was lost to the last man in the Siege of Las Vegas, one of the early skirmishes in the age of the Arthropod Wars. While we've lost great swathes of the American Southwest to these creatures, the experience and training of our brave troops against the insect menace has allowed us to successfully fight off the giant grasshopper assault on Chicago, the giant mantid invasion of Washington DC, the Mexican tarantual menace, and the giant moth attack on Tokyo. Never forget. Don't let these men and women have died in vain. Sign up for the Bug Corps and protect this planet for humanity.]

96 comments

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  1. 1
    PZ Myers

    Sorry about that. I’m on pills and am not sleeping at all well while I struggle with a nasty tendinitis flareup, and sometimes I have weird dreams.

  2. 2
    Akira MacKenzie

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have this one…

    (Cough…cough…Ahem…)

    THEM! THEM! THHHHEEEEEEEEM!

  3. 3
    carlie

    First they came for the ants, and I said nothing…

  4. 4
    mattand

    Never forget. Don’t let these men and women have died in vain. Sign up for the Bug Corps and protect this planet for humanity.

    If get to fight along side Dina Meyer, Neil Partick Harris and Clancy Brown, I’m all in.

  5. 5
    Rawnaeris, Lulu Cthulhu

    *blinkblink*
    Thanks, PZ, now I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight.

  6. 6
    mattand

    And just to cover my bases: Hail Ants.

  7. 7
    chigau (違う)

    Weird enough.
    I also have an ad for body armor.

  8. 8
    shouldbeworking

    The bugs don’t function well in winter, right? I hear Baffin Island might be safe.

  9. 9
    richardelguru

    PZ, can you please tell us what pills you are on?….
     
     
    so we can avoid them

  10. 10
    Akira MacKenzie

    I also hear that they are pushing them back on Klendathu!

    Service means citizenship! Do you want to know more?

  11. 11
    Moggie

    Is this a stand-up fight, or another bug hunt?

  12. 12
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    Ants in pants!

  13. 13
    Kevin

    The best giant bug movie was the sci-fi classic “Starship Troopers”. That was a great movie cram-packed with every sci-fi cliche and trope possible. Not just giant bugs, but giant interstellar bugs controlled by a smart bug species that learned by sucking out the brains of humans. Awesome.

    And Dina Meyer topless in a unisex shower scene. And Casper Van Dien’s naked backside. And a BDSM-worthy flogging scene. And a very young (but not topless) Denise Richards.

    Fantastic fat-free fun for the whole (consenting adults) family.

  14. 14
    michaeld

    So was I the only one thinking of Earth Defense Force 2017? :P The obvious solution taught to me by EDF is rapid fire rocket launchers are the way to go.

  15. 15
    John Kruger

    Well I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.

  16. 16
    Shplane, Spess Alium

    This was actually extremely useful, PZ.

    Now the alien bug people in my Legend (An offshoot of D&D) campaign are going to get a BONUS to Constitution, instead of a penalty.

  17. 17
    chigau (違う)

    Where does Chris Clarke fit in this scenario?

  18. 18
    PZ Myers

    I think Chris is an apocalyptic madman, cunningly hiding from the giant bugs in secret desert enclaves, while writing angry missives to the world at large complaining about all the napalm and nukes despoiling the desert beauty. You want him on your side if you’re lost out there — he’s the only one who knows how to survive.

  19. 19
    andusay

    If they bleed, we can kill them.

  20. 20
    janiceintoronto

    My mothers sister was huge. She was 7’10″ and over 400 pounds.

    Yes, I had a giant aunt…

  21. 21
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Can’t our companies of amazing colossal soldiers just step on them?

  22. 22
    cicely

    *revising design specs for the Hoverchair10000™*
    Flamethrowers…check.
    Napalm! grenade launchers…check.
     
    Question: Does fire degrade their armor plating to any significant degree? ‘Cause if not, I will definitely scavenge for usable pieces to clad my Hoverchair10000™ with, putting my 30-years-worth of experience salvaging dragon hide to good use.
    -

  23. 23
    Randomfactor

    My pastor always told us formication would lead to the downfall of this country…

  24. 24
    bbgunn

    So what do we pay those Orkin and Terminex people for?

  25. 25
    michaeld

    Thoughts on insect aliens.

    You’d have possible problems dealing with medicine (surgery in particular), if you wanted to do surgery your have to work around or through all the chitinous armour. Then again if you use the new kinds of surgery that use small incisions it might be possible to work through a weaker part of a joint rather then working through the chitin.

    This of course assumes an insect alien would be concerned with health care. Health care being dependent on the costs of trying to heal an injured insect versus hatching a replacement. But then even in a starship troopers situation with thousands of expendable members there are some valuable members who would need to be preserved. The breeders and assuming some sort of intelligence the thinkers. Much easier to try to heal an expert in the field of alien rocketry then grow and train a new one.

    The obvious problems with giant bugs are skirted in this post. The massive armour plates would be very hard to move around in needing all the muscle to carry them.

    Related the diffuse air passage system that leads to the muscles would have to be a lot more complex to have all the air getting through the larger amour to the larger muscles underneath in order to power those muscles. I wonder if some sort of chemical dispersed as an aerosol targeting the muscle tissue would be a good road to countering the giant ants.

  26. 26
    eric

    I do not fear them, I’m packing an M-93 Reality of Scale Launcher. One hit from it restores all the actual physical problems a very small insectoid would experience from being scaled up. Such as a poor strength-to-mass ratio, poor compound eye resolution, and breathing systems that require a higher surface area to mass ratio to work properly.

  27. 27
    ChasCPeterson

    Taking it ant by ant with flamethrowers? A symbolic stalling tactic at best. Meanwhile, in a top-secret hollow-mountain bunker-laboratory somewhere in Nevada, top scientists are risking it all to develop the ultimate bioweapon against the giant-ant scourge: giant-ant-zombifying giant liver flukes!!
    (unfortunately, funding has been delayed for the parallel giant snail-slimeball delivery-system project)

  28. 28
    unclefrogy

    the movie Star Runners has some really good bug monsters along with some “magic science” and perverse government coverup, lots of action!

    uncle frogy

  29. 29
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    Bah. Nothing to worry about.
    If we blow off their the antennae with a pistol, they fall down and die.
     
    * There’s an longplay of the whole game on youtube with the original Amiga graphics.

  30. 30
    Carlos Cabanita

    Having read the classic Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein, I refused to see the film. When I saw pictures of silly soldiers dressed like actual US Marines fighting the giant bugs, instead of using the Mobile Infantry augmented power suits described by Heinlein, I just thought: completely bogus!

  31. 31
    Chris Clarke

    I think Chris is an apocalyptic madman, cunningly hiding from the giant bugs in secret desert enclaves, while writing angry missives to the world at large complaining about all the napalm and nukes despoiling the desert beauty.

    And culturing weaponized strains of Cordyceps unilateralis using the brains of captured MRA trolls as growth media.

    Teeny, tiny growth media.

  32. 32
    dorght

    They’re in the SW? Then that’s ok. We have them quarantined within a perimeter of fields filled with organic grower plots dusted liberally with BT and the GM crop fields. Formidable Formicidae Ready ™

  33. 33
    drksky

    Kent Brockman knows.

  34. 34
    microraptor

    Giant ants?

    Our only hope of survival is to quickly breed an army of sauropod sized molochs.

  35. 35
    typecaster

    …Neil Partick Harris …

    He’s part tick? We’re doomed if our heroes start defecting to the Arthropods!
    .

    The best giant bug movie was the sci-fi classic “Starship Troopers”.

    The novel is a classic, the movie is just… there. Big and spectacular cinematography, sure, but much less meaty than the book. And their concept of the bugs is just stupid on steroids.

    I agree with your classification of it as “sci-fi” (pronounced “skiffy”). It certainly had nothing to do with speculative fiction.

    And a very young (but not topless) Denise Richards.

    Do not despair. There’s always Wild Things, with bonus (but not topless) Neve Campbell.

  36. 36
    Rob Grigjanis

    PZ Myers @18: “I think Chris is an apocalyptic madman”

    That’s what he wants us to think, and he is very convincing. Don’t be fooled. He is an elaborate human suit worn by a Formicid colony. Have you ever seen him in the same room as a leafcutter ant? I didn’t think so.

  37. 37
    Sili

    If get to fight along side Dina Meyer, Neil Partick Harris and Clancy Brown, I’m all in.

    Alongside NPH I wouldn’t get much fighting done.

    But, boy, would I enjoy the showers.

  38. 38
    peicurmudgeon

    I thought PZ’s write-up was a speech from Them! one of the classics.

  39. 39
    coyotenose

    Awesomely informative actually.

    Given how their respiration works, wouldn’t normal ants grown to giant size just suffocate?

    There are probably fifty other reasons they’d immediately fall down and die, but that one sticks out for me.

  40. 40
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    What a surreal post.
    I wonder if MRAs will find some way to crticize you for it PZ…

  41. 41
    Ingdigo Jump

    Anyone who has played Fallout can tell you the trick is to hit the forebrain of the Ants in the center of a grouping, that way they frenzy and start taking out the rest. Then once they’re softened up you can dispatch with flame throwers.

  42. 42
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Typecaster:
    I read that as ‘defacating’ rather than ‘defecting’ at first.

  43. 43
    PZ Myers

    #38: Yeah, that’s what the university eggheads all say. But are you going to tell a giant insect that it can’t exist when it’s got its mandibles wrapped around your torso? Huh, are you?

  44. 44
    Ingdigo Jump

    @PZ

    All signs point that their respiration is more efficient than it should be. So gas is defusing to their bodies at an accelerated rate right? This shows promise for aerosol chemical agents!

  45. 45
    Ingdigo Jump

    Also given the strain that their size causes (by virtue of being impossible) their legs should be structural weak points. I say aim for the legs, if we can get two down they may just collapse under their own weight and crush themselves.

  46. 46
    Ingdigo Jump

    alternatively we need to breed and train giant radioactive termites

  47. 47
    Louis

    Large insects? Easy. Some sort of suitably scaled up rolled up newspaper wielded by a giant robot. Obviously.

    Louis

  48. 48
    jaranath

    The video you linked to of the grasshopper attack on Chicago was posted by a publisher promoting its book about classic horror movie shows in Chicago (“Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows: From Shock Theatre to Svengoolie”). I MUST get me a copy of that! I grew up watching Sven, and was thrilled to learn he’s now gone national on the ME-TV network. Unfortunately Rich Koz (Sven) had a nasty heart attack and bypass in November, but he’s recovering and is told he’ll be able to return to work eventually.

  49. 49
    leonpeyre

    Flamethrowers are a great idea, buy why not just douse them with huge amounts of soapy water?

  50. 50
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    @Louis:
    Iron Giant, Agent of Terminex

  51. 51
    kalkin

    Hmmm, I could swear I remember reading an essay on why giant bugs are not the threat the way they are depicted in “Them” and “The Beginning of the End” due to the inneficiency of chitinous exoskeleton vs an osteo-endoskeleton. The suggestion was that given the amount of load placed on the relatively brittle chitin, you don’t really need to use a 50 cal…..just throw rocks.

  52. 52
    Kagehi

    Given how their respiration works, wouldn’t normal ants grown to giant size just suffocate?

    In terms of reality, yeah. You would need a huge increase in available oxygen on the air, on the scale that a forest fire from lightning would look, and act, more like orbital bombardment using a giant space laser (i.e., damn close to glassing the forest). The practical limit in size isn’t just oxygenation, though that is a big one, but, limbs have narrow points, where musculature and the like need to pass, and where those fluids need to slosh around, and the ratio between the size of a limb, and the size of the opening that connects, due to structural requirements, and flexibility, creates a nasty curve ratio, where the bigger you scale, the smaller the percentage of, comparable, space you have in those joints in which to fit everything needed to make it all work.

    Now.. If you have much lower gravity, or something, then you would also need less muscle in those places, which would free up some space, maybe.. But, the math just won’t allow such a framework to operate efficiently, without increasing the oxygenation rate, somehow, without also increasing the size of the systems that provide it.

    That said.. I am so going to refer this post to the forums for the Post Apocalyptic role play sims I visit. lol

  53. 53
    RobertL

    I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  54. 54
    Rob Grigjanis

    RobertL @52: Yeah, but this time check the ship for eggs first, dammit!

  55. 55
    jaytheostrich

    Bug Wars was one of my favourite High School novels, though it was lizard men vs giant insects (with space ships!).

    My dream last night was about Zombie Apocalypse.. seemed about triple feature length, though not as fun as movies make out, sadly.

  56. 56
    michaelbusch

    @eric: As a long-time player of Hal Clement’s game of pointing out all of the problems with a story, I approve of your choice of weapons.

    I add the following to all of the other impossibilities of giant insects that people have mentioned:

    Consider thermoregulation. Insects don’t sweat. A human-sized ant running around the landscape would promptly overheat and collapse from heatstroke; and a colony of human-sized ants would be unable to keep the larvae at the right temperatures for development. Termite-style nests would do somewhat better, but not well enough. Passive airflow is only so efficient.

    Others have noted that chitin is fairly lousy armor, and it is. Few tens of MPa yield strength. That’s about the same as nylon, half as strong as bone, a tenth as strong as steel plate, and 2% as strong as Kevlar. 2 cm thick chitin would be neatly punched through by handgun rounds.

    And as long as the giant insects are stupid, humans would win immediately. Don’t try to shoot them – use pheromone lures to pull them into a trap. Don’t go into the ant nest – check the surrounding ground for tunnels with ground-penetrating radar and then smash the place with an earthquake bomb. It’s like fighting zombies. You win by playing to your strengths. Nice thing about fighting giant animals: few moral dilemmas.

    As you may have guessed, I’m not necessarily the most fun person to watch monster movies with.

  57. 57
    michaeld

    MichaelBusch

    Hmmm I hadn’t even considered those problems…. nice job ^.^

  58. 58
    michaelbusch

    @michaeld: Thanks!

    I’m afraid I do this to just about every story I encounter. Hence stuff like this (shameless self-promotion): http://clementsgame.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/scifi-round-eight/

  59. 59
    eddyline

    Square-Cube Law.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square-cube_law

  60. 60
    Kevin Anthoney

    Clearly, instead of shooting these magnificent creatures we should be putting them to good use. The only rational option is to put a couple of them into every school in America to keep our children safe. They’re a lot cheaper than retired policemen, and what could possibly go wrong?

  61. 61
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    Permethrin. Also highly-toxic to cats.

    If that’s not good enough, I don’t know what is. ;-)

  62. 62
    sirbedevere

    PZ, if you’re taking anti-inflammatories for “teninitis” you can stop now: they won’t do any good (and weird dreams are a fairly common side effect!)
    Tendinitis is more properly referred to as tendonosis now because “itis” refers to an inflammatory condition and it’s been known for some time that tendons don’t get inflamed.
    Here’s an editorial from the British Medical Journal criticising doctors for prescribing anti-inflammatories:
    http://www.bmj.com/content/324/7338/626
    More information on tendonosis:
    http://www.tendinosis.org/current.html
    Hope it gets better soon. It took me almost 2 years to get my patellar tendonosis under control.

  63. 63
    FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!)

    Giant bugs? Seems like a situation tailor made for a Lazy Gun.

  64. 64
    Marcus Ranum

    I would like to invite our new ant overlords to my annual picnic and celebration!

  65. 65
    jnorris

    Triffids grow in desert regions. The USA government must bring triffids to the southwest. Not only will they kill the ants but they will stop the Anti-Brown Menace forces in Arizona.

    If that does not work, we hire Dalek mercenaries. What could possibly go wrong?

    Please remember Police Sgt. Ben Peterson’s sacrifice and contribute to the New Mexico State Troopers’ Widow and Orphan Fund. Make check payable to CASH and mail to this address. Thank You.

  66. 66
    Ingdigo Jump

    What if we introduce a natural predator? Could we relocate some graboids?

  67. 67
    Marcus Ranum

    So what we need is a GM version of Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis that makes the giant ants all want to climb roadside billboards and wait there for jesus. Side benefit: no more billboards.

  68. 68
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    I’m willing to wait for the radioactive Ichneumonoidea.

    Apocalyptic Darwin for the win! (/sjgould)

  69. 69
    frankb

    Dave Berry actually had an article about how to defeat THEM. First you need a giant twinkie to lure them to one spot. Then you have giant space platforms in low earth orbit that look like sales racks at a boot store. Launch a four story boot toward the target on the surface and you have a powerful STOMP OF DOOM.

    It can be built, we have the technology.

  70. 70
    frankb

    I am obviously referring the Dave Barry.

  71. 71
    susans

    Dave Berry is Rachel Berry’s cousin. She will sing a series of high notes, which will shatter their eyes. As they stagger around sightless, we will dispatch them using Dave’s astonishing solution.

  72. 72
    MG Myers

    sirbedevere – Thanks for the information!

  73. 73
    hypocee

    Why do we even have the square-cube law?

    Ah well. There’s obviously only one way to stop them. Buicks!

  74. 74
    coyotenose

    #38: Yeah, that’s what the university eggheads all say. But are you going to tell a giant insect that it can’t exist when it’s got its mandibles wrapped around your torso? Huh, are you?

    Oh, if it does that, I’ll be telling it that it can’t exist all right. I’ll put on some Barry, smooth those antennae out of its eyes and murmur, “You just can’t be real, Baby.”

  75. 75
    Hekuni Cat, MQG

    cicely:

    putting my 30-years-worth of experience salvaging dragon hide to good use.

    :D I can’t wait to see the final specs.

  76. 76
    chigau (違う)

    coyotenose #73
    You win.

  77. 77
    trollofreason

    I honestly didn’t know all about about ant physiology, or what bug blood was called.

    As naive as this sounds: I like learning things.

  78. 78
    John-Henry Beck

    Jaytheostrich @ 54
    I quite enjoyed Bug Wars too. Still have it around somewhere, I’m sure. Robert Asprin is hilarious.

  79. 79
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    I propose creating legions of giant spiders to combat these giant ants.

    There’s nothing that can go wrong with this plan.

  80. 80
    bad Jim

    The ants are my friends, they’re blowing in the wind.
    The ants are just blowing in the wind.

    (with apologies to Bob Dylan)

  81. 81
    Crudely Wrott

    Shoot. That’s one on me, PZ. I thought the enemy was going to be those pesky bits of fallout from the nuke tests. After all, 1954, southwest deserts, me growing up during the cold war . . .

    My excuses seem reasonable but I should have intuited that you were up to no good before I clicked the Do You Want To Know More? button.

    Point for you, fairly won.

    [grumble, grumble]

  82. 82
    don1

    The South West is generally pretty sunny, right? And with buttes?

    Archimedes’ mirror.

  83. 83
    lpetrich

    This reminds me of:

    Asimov, Isaac, “Dreamworld”

    Edward Keller, age 13, is an enthusiastic reader of science fiction. He is being raised by his aunt Clara who keeps telling him to “face reality.” One night, his usual stfnal dream turns to horror as a myriad of huge Claras pursues him, telling him to “face reality.” If he cannot awake, he will be trapped in a world of giant aunts!

    The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 9:5 November 1955 (pg.127)

  84. 84
    WharGarbl

    This… sounds like something Cave would do (or cause).
    “Hey, I heard you got a giant ant problem. Don’t worry, I got your solution. Mantis man! Step right up to get your dose of praying mantis DNA! Fight the giant ant menace! Save… what’s that Greg?”
    “… mmph mph… mmph…”
    “… what do you mean praying mantis don’t eat ants?”
    “… mmph mph…”
    “Oh… okay, for those of you who volunteered to be injected with praying mantis DNA, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Bad news is we’re postponing those tests indefinitely. Good news is we’ve got a much better test for you: fighting an army of mantis men. Pick up a rifle and follow the yellow line. You’ll know when the test starts.”

  85. 85
    lorn

    I’m thinking that what we need is a really big magnifying glass.

    This is, of course, proof of the existence of God. Little boys have been frying ants for a very long time, troops will not need any special training to understand the process, and then we find out that this behavior, obviously a race memory placed there by a higher power, is exactly what we need to save mankind. Coincidence … I think not.

    That and a string of sunny days and we win. We might need a some sort of high-tech low-light magnifying glass for frying the bastards by moonlight. I’m sure the eggheads will figure it out.

  86. 86
    WharGarbl

    @lron
    #84
    Or an array of orbital mirrors to redirect sunlight from the sun.
    One design off the top of my head would be as followed.
    A set of mirrors orbiting around the Sun-Earth L2 point (using similar orbit as the Herschel Space Observatory), with large enough orbit to avoid shadowing from earth. The advantage is that since the L2 point is essentially always located at the night-side of earth, the mirrors would have near 100% availability to focus sun’s energy to the night-side of earth (on full-moon, several satellites may be unavailable on account of the moon blocking it).
    As for how big a mirror we need… well, not sure. Anyone know a rough estimate on the equilibrium temperature of a insect carapace given the watt/meter of thermal energy?

  87. 87
    David Marjanović

    Their legs would be very prone to buckling.

    My pastor always told us formication would lead to the downfall of this country…

    Thread won.

    Our only hope of survival is to quickly breed an army of sauropod sized molochs.

    Breeding takes far too long. Just nuke ‘em: you’ll get exactly what you need – Godzilla !!

    Large insects? Easy. Some sort of suitably scaled up rolled up newspaper wielded by a giant robot. Obviously.

    Translation: should Godzilla prove to be insufficient, build Mechagodzilla !!

    Clearly, instead of shooting these magnificent creatures we should be putting them to good use. The only rational option is to put a couple of them into every school in America to keep our children safe. They’re a lot cheaper than retired policemen, and what could possibly go wrong?

    Day saved, Molly nomination won.

    So what we need is a GM version of Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis that makes the giant ants all want to climb roadside billboards and wait there for jesus. Side benefit: no more billboards.

    So much win in this thread!

    *imagines Touchdown-sized Jesus eating billboards*

    Why do we even have the square-cube law?

    So true!

    That and a string of sunny days and we win. We might need a some sort of high-tech low-light magnifying glass for frying the bastards by moonlight. I’m sure the eggheads will figure it out.

    Ah. Suddenly we’re useful again. *pout* *sulk*

  88. 88
    michaelbusch

    @WharGarbl @85:

    I was told that there was no such thing as overkill, but I think you’ve managed it. Why build weapons of mass destruction when you can simply run the ants in circles?

    Re. your question:

    At ~1000 W/m^2, the ants would be heated to roughly the boiling point of water. At 10,000 W/m^2, normal bees immediately turn into expanding clouds of foul-smelling vapor. I know this because a swarm of bees once flew through the beam line of NASA’s Goldstone radar facility. For a fraction of a second, instead of observing near-Earth asteroids we were operating a 450 kilowatt bug zapper.

    Larger bugs would last a bit longer, since they have more mass per unit area to heat up, but only for a couple of minutes. That also sets the entire landscape around them on fire. So Yeah. Overkill.

  89. 89
    woodsong

    There’s also an easier (and much safer) way to infiltrate the nest to get to the queen than burning your way in one ant at a time.

    Synthetic pheromones.

    Are the any chemists out there working on synthesizing worker ant pheromones? Give the infiltration force enough anointment with these, and the soldier and worker ants will ignore them as they walk in.

    Only three issues:
    1) Don’t be stingy with the pheromones! The moment you smell like food rather than fellow ant, you’re lunch and the mission is over.
    2) Don’t get stepped on or crushed by moving ants. Remember at all times that the enemy will not notice or care about about relative human fragility–and you don’t want them to notice!
    3) Be prepared for a long mission, unless you can acquire a ground-penetrating-radar map of the tunnels and identify the queen’s chamber. Don’t get lost! On the plus side, once a queen starts egglaying she’s completely immobile, so you won’t have to track a moving target.

    Personally, I thing my weapon of choice would be a grenade provided by Orkin.

  90. 90
    woodsong

    Actually, an even better pheromone cocktail: larval ants. The workers won’t ignore larvae, they’ll pick them up and carry them to the nursery chamber. The queen’s chamber shouldn’t be far away.

    Just make sure there’s also worker-ant-pheromone to apply after reaching the nursery, otherwise workers will keep carrying the infiltrators back there. And again: don’t get lost!

    michaelbusch, that 450 kW bug zapper sounds awesome! :-D

  91. 91
    michaelbusch

    @woodsong:

    Not so awesome as it may appear. The back-reflection from the expanding cloud of bee-steam was so strong that it heated up and cracked the microwave window of the receiver vacuum chamber. We had to stop while the site crew swapped out the window and pumped the vacuum down again. For a similar problem: the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico fairly frequently microwaves birds that get stuck in between the secondary and tertiary mirrors. The optics there aren’t such that back-reflections damages the receivers, but the charred carcasses need to be picked off of the tertiary every so often.

    Re. the pheromones: far safer to ring the nest with aversion pheromone from the air to keep the ants in, scan the place with radar, and lob in the bunker busters. You wouldn’t want to get up close and personal with unthinking killing machines, no matter how you smelled.

  92. 92
    WharGarbl

    @michaelbusch
    #87
    Okay, sun-light is about 1000 watt / m^2. So a ratio of 10:1 should be sufficient to get up to 10,000 watt / m^2.

    I was told that there was no such thing as overkill, but I think you’ve managed it. Why build weapons of mass destruction when you can simply run the ants in circles?

    That’s assuming we know how to synthesize ant pheromone at large quantity quickly, and what happens if the next menace is not ants? Orbital solar ray is good multi-purpose solution for just about any organic (and probably some non-organic) threats. Unless it’s a micro-organism that feeds off thermal energy to grow, then we need to invent freeze rays.

    Plus, we already have the technical know how to do it, if it wasn’t for the fact that it will be freakishly expensive. But then again, when you’re facing giant ant threat, cost might not be an issue.

    Beside, what fun is talking about giant ant menace if we can’t propose an overkill solution?

    This whole thread kind of remind me of the new Pacific Rim movie. Giant sea monster destroying the world? Build giant robots and punch them!

  93. 93
    woodsong

    michaelbusch:

    The back-reflection from the expanding cloud of bee-steam was so strong that it heated up and cracked the microwave window of the receiver vacuum chamber.

    Yikes! Not what you want with a telescope. I wasn’t thinking about backscatter effects. I’m glad the damage wasn’t any worse! Better the window than window + detectors…

    On the pheromones subject, I was thinking of the “Our only hope is to invade the hive” message in the OP, which seems to imply that bombs are not available. I do agree that getting up close and personal is not optimal.

    How about an Orkin bomb the size of a couch, scented like a larval ant, with a detonation device to go off half an hour after being grasped and carried off by a worker ant? That should kill the nursery and surrounding area occupants, with a good chance of getting the queen in the process, especially if you left several. Does that sound better?

  94. 94
    woodsong

    WharGarbl:

    what happens if the next menace is not ants?

    Insecticide!

    At least none of the other menaces mentioned in the OP have the kind of social structure that ants have. This has pluses and minuses.

    On the plus side: Grasshoppers etc. don’t work together. You’re destroying one individual at a time.

    On the minus side: Grasshoppers etc. don’t breed communally. You’re destroying one individual at a time, and if you miss a few, they’ll be back!

    Some of these critters will be easier to attack than others. Giant moths? Giant bug zappers! Tarantulas? Can we synthesize Tarantula hawk venom and harpoon the critters with giant hypodermics of it? At least spiders have (I think–someone correct me if I’m wrong) more fragile skin than ants. Grasshoppers? High-powered rifle shot to the hind-leg knee joints should slow them down, and again, I think they’re more fragile than ants.

  95. 95
    michaelbusch

    @woodsong: I approve of the strategy of using the ants’ own system against them. The earthquake bomb does have one advantage, though: they already existed in 1954.

    @WharGarbl:

    You propose dealing with the problem of ants by putting everyone in the target zone of a superweapon. This is not the best option.

    Also: PZ set his story in 1954. No spacecraft of any description. But plenty of bombs and enough knowledge of biochemistry to know at least some of the relevant pheromones.

  96. 96
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Nothing about insecticide released by fire-bombers?

    Aim for one of the middle legs. As hexapods walk by alternating two triangles of left-right-left and right-left-right feet, as soon as they take two steps they’ll fall over on the side that has the single support missing.

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