The Invasive Species Council has called on communities in South-east Queensland and northern NSW to be on the alert for fire ants, warning that the recent heavy rainfall and wild weather in the region could accelerate the spread of the deadly pest.
‘The recent heavy rainfall and wild weather in the region could accelerate the spread of fire ants, one of the world’s worst invasive species,’ warned Invasive Species Council Advocacy Manager Reece Pianta.
‘Fire ants are more active before or after rainfall and can form large floating rafts which move with water currents to establish footholds in new areas.
‘We have recently seen evidence of this rafting behaviour on cane farms south of Brisbane.
‘The good news is that it will be easier to spot fire ants and their nests at this time.
‘We are therefore calling on the community to be on the lookout for fire ants, including in their backyards, local parks, beaches or bushland.
‘It’s really easy to do your part. Just take a picture of any suspicious ants and report it.
‘And don’t worry if you’re not sure what type of ant it is, every picture that is sent in will be vital information for the eradication program.
‘With rebuilding work underway we also remind the community to be careful when moving materials that might contain fire ants.
‘Fire ants are also clever stowaways – materials like mulch and soil are ideal for transferring fire ants to new sites.
‘Ongoing containment and suppression mean it is still possible to eradicate fire ants from Australia if we all do our part.
‘While out in the garden, at the park, taking a walk, camping or at the beach, we should all be on the lookout for suspicious ants.
‘Of course, fire ants are dangerous. Don’t put yourself, clothing or belongings in direct contact with ants or their nests,’ said Mr Pianta.
‘This new fire ant funding from Victoria, when combined with the recent funding boosts from the federal, NSW, Queensland, ACT and NT Governments, means eradication is still possible,‘ Mr Pianta said.
‘Fire ants are one of the world’s worst super pests and, if they are allowed to spread across the continent, their economic impact will be greater than cane toads, rabbits, feral cats and foxes combined.
‘They will devastate Australia’s environment and agriculture, cost our economy billions annually and we could see over 140,000 extra medical visits every year as they sting Australians at the park or in the backyard.
‘However there is still a $56 million funding shortfall for the national program as South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania have not yet committed their share of funds..’
‘Fire ants are a national problem for Australia – money spent now saves billions down the track,’ said Mr Pianta.
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Fire ant multimedia to accompany this story is available here.
** IMPORTANT: IF YOU ARE ATTACKED BY FIRE ANTS SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION **
How to look, snap and report a suspected fire ant nest:
- Keep your eyes peeled for suspicious ants or ant mounds when you’re out in the garden, at the park, taking a walk, camping or at the beach. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what type of ant it is, every report is vital information for the eradication program.
- Be mindful of your safety if you think you have found fire ants. Keep your distance and do not put yourself, clothing or belongings in direct contact with fire ants or their nests.
- Take a photo or short video of the ants on your smartphone. Try to take a few close ups of the ants and their nest.
- Report fire ants to:
- Queensland: 13 25 23 or www.fireants.org.au
- New South Wales: 1800 680 244 or https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/biosecurity/forms/report-exotic-ants
- If you think fire ants are on your property, find advice on what to do by visiting: https://www.fireants.org.au/treat/residential-landowner-or-tenant
Background information on fire ants:
- Six nests were reported by a property owner in South Murwillumbah in north-eastern NSW, 13 kilometres south of the Queensland border. A nest was also identified in mid-December on the Queensland-New South Wales border at Currumbin Valley.
- Fire ants are dark reddish-brown with a darker black-brown abdomen and range in size from two to six millimetres long. Their ant nests are distinctive mounds of loose, crumbly or fluffy-looking soil with a honeycomb appearance, up to 40 centimetres high, with no obvious entrance holes.
- Red imported fire ants can damage electrical and agricultural equipment, sting people, pets and livestock, kill native plants and animals, and damage ecosystems beyond repair.
- Those who breach the emergency biosecurity order could face significant penalties with fines for breaches reaching up to $1.1 million for an individual and up to $2.2 million for a corporation.
- A ten-year proposed eradication program has been developed, with $592 million required in the first 4 years. The NSW, Queensland, Commonwealth, Northern Territory, ACT, and Victorian governments have committed to their portion of funding for this, but the program is still $59 million underfunded because no commitments have been made yet by the South Australia, Western Australian and Tasmanian Governments.
- The 2021 National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program strategic review estimated that at least $200 to $300 million per year will be required for ongoing eradication efforts to achieve eradication by 2032.
- Fire ants can be lethal to humans, are expected to have a $2 billion per year impact on Australia’s economy if they get out of control, will devastate wildlife, cut agricultural output by up to 40% and may cause over one hundred thousand extra medical appointments each year.
- Fire ants can form rafts during flood events, stowaway in freight or soil, or spread by Queen ant flights of around 5 km per year (and up to 30 km in favourable conditions).
- Fire ants came into Australia in the late 90s in freight from the United States, they were found in 2001. Fire ants are originally from South America.
- Fire ants have spread across most of the southern United States, and are spreading in China at a rate of about 80 km per year. Australia has managed to contain fire ants in south east Queensland for 20 years however under-resourcing has prevented successful eradication.