Squirrels Do 17% of the Damage to Fiber Optic Network

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Level 3 Communications, a fiber network company with 84,000 miles of cable, comes clean about the real danger to its business

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Among the enemies of the future, we should count the common squirrel. According to Level 3 Communications, which maintains an 84,000-mile fiber network, the cute rodents do 17 percent of the damage to their fiber optic network.

Fred Lawler, a company vice president who "is passionate about fiber protection," wrote about the "furry little nut eater" problem in a blog post for Level 3.

Of all the animals in the whole world, almost all of our animal damage comes from this furry little nut eater. Squirrel chews account for a whopping 17% of our damages so far this year! But let me add that it is down from 28% just last year and it continues to decrease since we added cable guards to our plant. Honestly, I don't understand what the big attraction is or why they feel compelled to gnaw through cables. Our guys in the field have given this some thought and jokingly suspect the cable manufacturers of using peanut oil in the sheathing. If you have any new ideas on how we can combat these wayward rodents, I'd love to hear from you. We are always looking for ways to improve.

First of all, let's stipulate that this is ridiculous.

Ok, now, what could be causing squirrels among all rodents to go after these cables? In 2001, a repairman suggested it was the grease used in the sheathing. A 1989 patent suggests "chewing on objects which are tough in composition is necessary to prevent [rodents] ever-growing incisor teeth from overgrowing." Lawler himself suggested peanut oil.

Someone must have looked into this, no? Hasn't some animal behaviorist picked up some grant money to do some simple testing?

Image: Reuters photoshopped with horsepunchkid/Flickr. Via @rsingel.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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