Australia faces a national emergency if federal and state funding of the country’s red fire ant eradication program is not fully funded in 2017.
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What’s at risk?
These highly invasive ants first turned up in Australia at the northern port of Brisbane in 2001. We know of four other incursions. One large outbreak in southeast Queensland remains active, but contained.
We just have to look at the US to see what would happen to Australia if we fail to eradicate fire ants.
Fire ants were accidentally introduced into Alabama in the 1930s. It was not until 1957 that eradication was attempted but it was too late. They have now spread to Texas, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
- They cost US industry and agriculture $7 billion a year.
- They have caused the death of 85 people, all dying from anaphylactic shock.
- Elderly people in US nursing homes have died after mass stings.
Could this happen in Australia?
Yes. Nearly all of Australia is vulnerable to fire ant invasion, including all major cities and towns. More than 99% of the mainland and 80% of Tasmania are suitable to these deadly intruders.
Fire ants might be small, but when their nests are disturbed they rise up in their thousands to swarm and sting their intruder en masse.
Without the regular use of chemical baits, infested parks, gardens and homes become uninhabitable. In the US, 30% to 60% of people in infested areas are stung each year. The stings are painful, hence their name ‘fire’ ants. The alkaloid venom causes pustules and, in some people, allergic reactions.
Fire ants have greater ecological impacts than most ants because they reach extremely high densities. An assessment of their likely impact on 123 animals in southeast Queensland predicted population declines in about 45% of birds, 38% of mammals, 69% of reptiles and 95% of frogs.
These ants damage crops, rob beehives and kill newborn livestock. During dry times they dominate the margins of dams and livestock cannot reach water without being seriously stung.
Australia has too much to lose if we don’t eradicate red fire ants.
Experts say it would cost $40-$50 million a year spent over the next decade to eradicate fire ants from South East Queensland. The alternative is unthinkable. If fire ants get out of control Queensland alone faces a 30-year damage bill of $45 billion, dwarfing the cost of eradication.
In 2016, federal, state and territory governments will be making decisions behind closed doors about whether to properly fund the fire ant eradication program, with a final decision to be made in mid 2017. If the eradication program remains poorly funded, as it has been for the past 15 years, millions of Australians will have to suffer the pain of living with fire ants.
Our nation will be transformed forever.
We need to build public awareness of this huge threat and plan to bring out a fire ant expert from the US early next year to warn Australians of the nightmare that would take over our country if fire ants are not eradicated.
There are three things you can do to make this a reality: