US fire ant expert urges Australia to act

US fire ant expert Dr Robert Puckett arrives in Australia today as part of a national tour of Australia in which he is warning the country it needs to act immediately to get rid of the super pest. 

He has been brought to Australia by the Invasive Species Council, which is calling for an increase in state and federal government funding to get rid of fire ants before they take hold across the nation.

“Fire ants are a super pest – if we fail to eradicate them they will exact a devastating toll on our unique wildlife, farmers, schools, lifestyle, health system and infrastructure,” Invasive Species Council of Australia CEO Andrew Cox said.

“It’s no joke, people in the US die from fire ant attacks.”

Dr Puckett is visiting five capital cities in five days. He is speaking in Brisbane on March 20, Canberra on March 21, Sydney on March 22, Melbourne on March 23 and finishing in Perth on March 24.

“Australia’s agriculture ministers will meet within months to decide what to do about fire ants. To eradicate fire ants, they must commit to a 10 year, $380 million program this year,” Mr Cox said.

“Failure to eradicate fire ants means Australians will be forced to confront a terrifying future, one where no capital or regional city will be free from the threat of fire ant invasion. A future where a family picnic can turn into a life-or-death situation if someone stumbles onto a hidden fire ant nest.

“The projections sound extreme, but more than 85 deaths have been recorded in the US alone from fire ant attacks.”

If anyone can bring home the dangers of living in a country where fire ants are out of control it’s Dr Robert Puckett.

He is an Assistant Professor and Extension Entomologist at A&M University in Texas, a fire ant hot spot. His research has explored bio-control of fire ants and won national recognition from the Entomological Society of America.

As well as speaking at the forums, Dr Puckett will meet key state and federal government politicians.

“The cost of fire ants in the US is calculated in the billions, not millions. There are costs to ranchers, livestock costs, equipment damage, they invade aircon units and pump houses, electrical switch boxes, you name it,” Dr Puckett said.

“Sometimes people need to experience fire ants to take them seriously, but by the time you experience it, it will be too late.”

As well as raising awareness of the risks, Dr Puckett will also be delivering the message that it is not too late for Australia to take action on fire ants.

“The only thing holding back eradication in Australia seems to be willingness and resources.”

For comment

  • For an interview with Dr Puckett please phone Outreach Officer Reece Pianta on 0422 935 665 or CEO Andrew Cox on 0438 588 040.

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