Eradication planned for the red imported fire ant

30 March 2019

The tenacious and resilient red imported fire ant is still infesting areas in South East Queensland 10 plus years after they were first discovered.

Wildlife Queensland holds an optimistic view that the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program’s new 10-year plan will eradicate fire ants from Australian shores.

Since commencing in 2001, it may have appeared that the $400 million eradication program was unsuccessful as the infested area spread over time to other areas in South East Queensland.  However, countries in similar situations have seen fire ant expansion at rates of 50-80 km per year.

Without the eradication program efforts, the results would have been pretty grim. There would be around 69 million hectares infested by fire ants. This equates to an area that covers Rockhampton in the north, Sydney to the south and out to Charleville in the west. (This potential spread is based on a USA model over the same period of 14 years. In Texas, the ants spread 48km per year.) That is one of the reasons why Wildlife Queensland feels optimistic about the future.

A 2016 report with an independent review panel with experts in entomology, eradication, invasive species, agricultural economics, and biosecurity agreed that it is feasible to eradicate fire ants from Australia and it is in the national interest to do so. Based on this, the Australian Agricultural Ministers Forum committed $400 m over 10 years in 2017 to the Program.

The Program is now in its second year of the 10-year program. The eradication strategy over the 10 years is to reduce the size of the infestation in a staged, rolling planned treatment program starting from the west and progressively moving to the east. The program is currently treating fire ants in the western area of South East Queensland.

The Program is also looking to improve its engagement and collaborate more with members from industries and communities. This change had overwhelming support at the Stakeholder Forum back in May 2018, in which Wildlife Queensland participated.

Since then:

  • The Building and Development group held its first meeting in November 2018. This is a high-priority sector as development and building activity creates an ideal habitat for fire ants and has a demonstrable history of infestation and spread of fire ants. This action enabled strategies to be developed and discussed to move forward and minimise costs to the industry.
  • Community Partnership Group discussions have been held at Gatton.
  • Stakeholder discussions have been held in the Brisbane Gold Coast corridor with the various Councils, namely Brisbane, Logan and Gold Coast.
  • A broad Stakeholder Forum is scheduled for mid-year and Wildlife Queensland will attend.

Those involved in the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program hold a strong belief that action, not just words, is needed.

Treatment season 2018-19

This financial year, the treatment season commenced in September 2018 and is scheduled to conclude in June 2019 within the respective zone.

The treatment for fire ants involves spreading corn grit soaked in a mixture of soybean oil and an insect growth regulator. It is thinly dispersed across backyards and garden areas as well as parklands and paddocks. The bait treatment is not harmful to humans or animals as it is specifically targeted at fire ants.

There are three main methods of distributing the bait, which vary depending on the size and accessibility of each property. These are:

  • on foot, with a handheld spreader on residential blocks
  • from an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or quad bike, on larger properties
  • by air, using a helicopter on large acreage properties.

Please, DON’T treat fire ant nests yourself!

A Biosecurity Queensland officer will contact you if a helicopter is to be used to let you know that aerial treatment will take place and to discuss the process. There’s no cost to you when your property is treated.

It is recommended that only a qualified Biosecurity Queensland pest management officer should destroy fire ant nests. Treating a fire ant nest yourself is not recommended:

  • There is a likelihood of ants evacuating the queen and the colony moving.
  • Your safety is at risk as fire ants are very aggressive and swarm when their nest is disturbed.

Quick facts about fire ant nests

  • Fire ant nests have no visible entry holes and look like mounds of loose dirt. The size varies.
  • In residential blocks, nests may be found in lawns or garden beds, often around logs and rocks and even in pot plants.
  • On rural holdings, likely sites for nests to occur include around dams, edges of cultivated land, cropland post-harvest, fence lines and piles of organic matter.
  • Nests have also been reported in a sugar cane crop.

Community support is vital – please report suspected fire ants

Under the Biosecurity Act 2014 everyone has a general biosecurity obligation to:

  • take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent or minimise each biosecurity risk
  • minimise the likelihood of the risk causing a biosecurity event
  • prevent or minimise the adverse effects the risk could have.

We all have a general obligation and a role to play in assisting Queensland in being free from red imported fire ants by 2030, preferably sooner.

If you are aware of any fire ant nests, please report these to the Fire Ant team:


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