General News

29 April, 2024

Fire ants arrive

Fire ants have been discovered for the first time west of the Great Dividing Range at Oakey Army Aviation Centre.

Fire ants are small, copper-coloured and swarm aggressively when provoked.
Fire ants are small, copper-coloured and swarm aggressively when provoked.

A member of the public reported the nests on Tuesday 16 April, with initial surveillance and treatment conducted by the program on Wednesday 17 April through to Friday 19 April.

Wet weather prevented teams from working over the weekend, but they were back in action on Monday 22 April and have continued through this week.

In total, 78 nests were found and treated as of Monday.

The number of nests means the ants have likely been here for months.

It’s the first time fire ants have been sighted west of the Great Dividing Range and the first time they have made it into the Murray-Darling Basin catchment.

Eradication activities, including intensive treatment and surveillance will occur up to 5 kilometres out from the detection site to protect the area and ensure no undetected fire ants remain.

This will include the town of Oakey itself.

Residents and businesses in Oakey are encouraged to join the fight by looking for and reporting any suspect nests or ants.

Fire ants are copper brown in colour and have a darker abdomen.

They measure 2 to 6 millimetres in length with a variety of sizes found in each nest.

Fire ant nests appear as mounds or patches of loose soil and have no obvious entry or exit holes.

Fire ants are attracted to disturbed soil and can be transported through human-assisted movement of organic materials.

This is the greatest risk to their spread and can have devastating impacts on our environment, economy, human and animal health, and our outdoor way of life.

Compliance and tracing investigations are also underway to help determine how the ants arrived in the area.

The Australian Defence Force has not yet provided a statement on the outbreak, although transport between bases such as Amberley and Oakey are likely to be looked at.

Fire ant treatment is safe for people, animals, and the environment – and is approved by the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority.

The treatment contains the same active ingredients commonly found in house-hold and agricultural pest control products, but at a much lower concentration.

National Fire Ant Eradication Program’s Executive Program Director Ashley Bacon has called for calm.

“This detection is concerning, but we do have procedures in place deal with it,” Mr Bacon said.

“We have managed outlier detections before, and we will do it again.

“Eradicating fire ants is not easy – it will take a whole-of-community approach.

“We need everyone to look for and report fire ants to us online at or by calling 13 25 23.”

“We also need people to let our teams in if we need to conduct eradication activities on their properties and take steps not to spread the invasive pest,” Mr Bacon said.

Genetic testing will confirm in the coming week if the fire ants are linked to the current Brisbane outbreak and if they are likely to have spread by flying queens.

The Senate recently released a report titled ‘Red imported fire ants in Australia: Don’t let this come back to bite us’ containing 10 recommendations which received unanimous support from the cross-party Senate committee.

The report called for:

- An alternative independent agency or commission for fire ant eradication program delivery.

-  A rapid review of current funding to ensure it is sufficient and uninterrupted to get the job done.

- Greater eradication program transparency and a public awareness campaign.

- Increased investment in research on emerging fire ant eradication techniques.

- More resources  for public self-treatment of fire ants in the infestation zone and increased compliance to control fire ant movements in freight.

The Invasive Species Council has expressed its serious concern at the outbreak which leaves the Murray-Darling exposed and at risk.

Reece Pianta, Advocacy Manager for the Invasive Species Council said the detection makes a rapid-fire ant funding review by Prime Minister Albanese urgent and essential.

“This new detection outside the fire ant eradication zone and within the Murray-Darling Basin catchment should mean alarm bells are ringing loudly in the Prime Minister’s office,” Mr Pianta said.

“The government must spare no expense in responding to this outbreak and the whole community should treat this very, very seriously.

“While we have full confidence in the National Eradication Program’s response to this outbreak, we are very worried that not enough money is being spent by governments on the fire ant invasion.

“In recent months we have had new fire ant detections in New South Wales, at Caboolture north of Brisbane and now west of the Great Dividing Range at Oakey.

‘These are all taking vital resources away from the main eradication effort. It is now undeniable that there is not enough money to get the eradication job done.

“Just (last week) the Australian Senate called for a rapid review of program funding after damning evidence from expert witnesses about limited funding, slow decision-making and unnecessary secrecy.

‘There is no excuse for inaction. The Albanese government must conduct an urgent review of fire ant eradication funding.

“Eradication remains possible, but right now we are losing the war against fire ants,” Mr Pianta said.

“Everyone in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales should be out checking for fire ants, particularly if you have had any recent material delivered to your property like soil, turf or mulch.

“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 up to 650,000 extra medical visits every year as they sting Australians at the park or in the backyard.”

Those who breach the Fire Ant 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 eradication program has been developed, with $593 million required in the first 4 years.

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 per cent and may cause up to 650,000 extra medical appointments each year.


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