Help stop fire ants in their tracks
Red Fire Ants are a serious problem for everybody in Australia. These highly invasive ants first turned up in Australia in 2001 at the northern port of Brisbane. We know of four other outbreaks. One large outbreak in southeast Queensland remains active, but contained.
Their stings can kill people and livestock. They can also wipe out entire native ecosystems, turning bustling bushland silent.
We have one shot at stopping red fire ants from taking over the country and the time for governments to urgently eradicate fire ant outbreaks is now.
What’s the risk
If we fail to get on top of the current outbreak in Queensland, modelling shows fire ants will spread to every corner of Australia. Our way of life will be changed forever.
Fire ants spread quickly on their own, however their spread is often accelerated by human assistance. They can reach new areas unexpectedly by stowing away in cargo containers or shipments of potted plants, soil or mulch. Once they reach a new area, they can be quite resilient and may take a long time to detect.
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.
Left, secondary infection following red fire ant stings, photo: Texas Department of Agriculture. Right, pustules resulting from fire ant stings. Photo: Murray S. Blum, The University of Georgia, www.forestryimages.org
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.
Why we need to take action
Fire ants are one of the world’s worst invasive species. They are an economic and environmental pest, responsible for killing people in the southern half of the United States where they are a prolific invasive species. They severely impact natural habitats, parks and sporting fields, farms, and livestock.
As well as being an environmental and health hazard, they cost US industry and agriculture a shocking $7 billion a year and if left unchecked, fire ants would have similar impacts in Australia.
A recent independent review found that a major boost of funding is needed over the next decade to successfully 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 2017, we advocated for funding of $411 million for South East Queensland’s eradication program, and won. But we recently discovered that the program funding in Queensland has been recklessly cut by almost half. Yet we’re hurtling toward a point where we can’t stop a continent-wide spread.
We’re the only national environmental advocacy organisation working to stop this national disaster.
With community support we can hold government’s to account and push for immediate action.