The federal environment department is warning that iconic Australian animals like the koala, platypus, echidnas, and loggerhead turtles could be killed and injured by fire ants.
In response, the Invasive Species Council have called on federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek to take an active role in ensuring the success of the fire ant eradication program amid concerns that the current level of funding is insufficient.
‘Australians everywhere will be shocked to hear that iconic native animals like koalas, platypus or echidnas will be on the fire ant menu,’ said Reece Pianta, Advocacy Manager for the Invasive Species Council.
‘Fire ants are one of the world’s worst invasive species and this government document paints a grim picture of the devastation that will face our wildlife if they are allowed to spread across the country.
‘The submission should be setting off alarm bells within the Albanese Government.
‘With so many threatened species on the menu, it is clear Environment Minister Plibersek must take an active role in ensuring the current fire ant eradication program is successful.
‘In Texas, we know fire ants get into and repeatedly sting the eyes, mouth and nose of cattle and can even kill their calves. The same fate awaits our koalas if they happen to disturb a nest while moving between trees.
‘Defenceless baby platypuses, newly hatched loggerhead turtles and ground nesting birds will also be attacked and eaten by these invaders.
‘The good news is that eradication is still possible if Australia’s governments ensure the funding they provide meets the needs on the ground.
‘However recent infestations in NSW, when combined with increased costs due to inflation, means we do not have confidence the current funding is enough.
‘We are therefore calling on the Albanese Government to trigger an urgent review of the adequacy of fire ant eradication funding before it is too late,’ Mr Pianta said.
Media inquiries: (02) 8006 5004
The submission by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water is available here
A video of fire ants rafting on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia on a cane farm in the recent floods (January 2024) is available for use by the media here.
Further fire ant multimedia to accompany this story is available here.
Extract from the submission into the Senate Inquiry into Red Imported Fire Ants in Australia by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water
Research based in the south-east Queensland bioregion found that RIFA is likely to have effects sufficiently severe to cause population declines in 45% of birds, 38% of mammals, 69% of reptiles and 95% of amphibians.
While any individual animal coming into contact with RIFA will likely experience adverse impact, examples of species likely to be at particular risk from RIFA include:
- the threatened loggerhead turtle and other threatened fresh and saltwater turtle species; RIFA may kill and injure vulnerable hatchlings, and are attracted to nests by the mucous and moisture released by a laying female.
- frogs in the genera Philoria and Pseudophyrne, which include threatened species that occur in habitats where RIFA could thrive. This includes the magnificent brood frog, northern and southern corroboree frog and baw baw frog.
- Australian ground-nesting bird species or those with low arboreal nests; RIFA may prey on eggs and hatchlings in nests. They are also vulnerable to indirect impacts, given RIFA can reduce the number of invertebrates, a key food source for birds. Examples of species that are likely to be impacted include the Australian brush-turkey, bush stone-curlew, black-breasted button-quail, little tern and the rainbow bee-eater.
- young platypus and short beaked echidna, given they shelter in terrestrial dens and are unable to protect themselves or flee.
- carnivorous marsupials, such as the spotted-tail quoll, that feed on larger invertebrates may be affected by RIFA causing declines to their food source.
- arboreal animals such as koalas risk being stung and killed by ants as they travel across the ground.
- the Illidge’s ant-blue butterfly and apollo jewel butterfly; RIFA disrupt a symbiotic process where native ants collect the butterfly larvae and move them to a nest (where the larvae are afforded protection whilst developing and excrete a sugary substance consumed by the ants). RIFA’s ability to out compete native ants could lead to a reduction in the recruitment of these butterfly species.
RIFA can also impact plants directly, tunnelling into stems, ringbarking seedlings and consuming plants.
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 by a gardener at Wardell, south of Ballina in NSW and about 85 kilometres south of the Queensland border.
- 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 $40 million underfunded because full commitments have not yet been made 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.