New Ground | Expert Environmental Consultants in Queensland

Fire Ants – Australia’s small but costly threat, and what they mean for you.

Discovery and Eradication Efforts

The imported red fire ant (Solenopsis Invicta) was initially detected in Brisbane in 2001. Twenty-three years later, this invasive species is now at the centre of the largest eradication program ever conducted in Australia (DES). Fire ants are native to South America, but have carved a destructive path throughout North America and east Asia. Now, Australia is on the precipice of becoming the next victim of a mass infestation that will have severe impacts on our social lives, economic stability, and the health of the natural environment.

Impact on Australian Life

To some, the effect that such a small ant could have on our daily lives seems improbable, right? Unfortunately, the presence of these small creatures comes at a very large cost. The Invasive Species Council estimates that 95% of continental Australia is susceptible to fire ant invasion. The species is highly adaptable and can nest in both man made and natural environments, and they aren’t shy of nesting near busy places. Fire ants have an incredibly painful sting (hence the name) and attack in large swarms towards anything that they come across. With the widespread invasion of the species, playgrounds, parks, beaches, backyards, sports fields, and bushlands will become a minefield, where picking the wrong spot (or any spot at all) could result in extreme pain or even a medical emergency.

Economic and Environmental Consequences

An online statement by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries states that ‘fire ants have the potential to surpass the combined damage done each year by our worst pests: feral cats, wild dogs, foxes, camels, rabbits, and cane toads.’ These costs to the economy come in a variety of forms such as severe damage to agricultural and livestock industries, damages to electrical equipment and building infrastructure, and the hinderance to tourism and lifestyle businesses in areas rendered unusable due to infestation.

Ecological Challenges

Fire ants don’t only pose a threat to us, but Australia’s intricate ecosystems and vibrant wildlife too. Recognised by the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) as a key threatening process, these invasive insects contribute to the decline of native flora and fauna’s biodiversity. Evidence gathered from the effects of fire ant infestation in the United States showed that the presence of the species resulted in a large reduction of diversity and abundance within that ecosystem (DCCEEW). Fire ants also pose specific threats in Australia via attacking and feeding on most ground-dwelling fauna, outcompeting and displacing native species, predation on native pollinators, and damage and consumption of seeds and saplings, altering the natural landscape.

What’s the solution?

The country is on a slippery slope between the successful eradication of the species, and a complete and uncontrollable infestation. Thanks to the implementation of the National Fire Ant Eradication Program and compliance from businesses and communities, fire ants have only managed to spread through Brisbane and its surrounds.  You too can play a role in stopping the spread of the species.

If you think you have seen fire ants or a fire ant nest, call the eradication program hotline at 13 25 23, or submit a report (including any images and videos you can provide) via this website. If you’re embarking on a new project or development, our environmental consultants provide thorough ecological assessments, identifying invasive species like the fire ant to inform and guide land management practices. 

More information on how to identify fire ants can be found at Community and industry action will play a pivotal role in the eradication of the species, let’s all do our part to protect Australia from this small and costly threat.

Photo/video credit: National Fire Ant Eradication Program

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