TINY PEST: They are small but the 14-year battle to eliminate fire ants from south-east Queensland needs big rescources such as detection helicopters.
TINY PEST: They are small but the 14-year battle to eliminate fire ants from south-east Queensland needs big rescources such as detection helicopters.

Fight to end fire ants chews up resources

THE head of the program tasked with eradicating fire ants says they could be wiped out in five years - if it had enough resources.

The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program has spent 14 years trying to get rid of the pest since they were detected in Brisbane.

They have spread from that infestation to Ipswich, Logan and Redlands, the Scenic Rim, Gold Coast and the Lockyer Valley.

The battle to eliminate fire ants from south-east Queensland needs rescources such as helicopters and specially trained detection dogs.
The battle to eliminate fire ants from south-east Queensland needs rescources such as helicopters and specially trained detection dogs.

Fire ants pose economic and environmental threats and have been declared a pest under the Plant Protection Act 1989.

"We commenced in 2001 when they were first detected so this is now the 14th year of the program and we've certainly learnt a lot about them as a pest over those years," program director Sarah Corcoran said.

"We've honed our techniques in how to find them faster.

"We also know that we can eradicate them. Our science is accurate and our eradication strategies do work because we have eradicated fire ants from Fisherman's Island which is one of the first sites where they were discovered.

"Here in the south east it's difficult being an urban environment. People might not always be aware they've got them."

Ms Corcoran said the ultimate goal was eradicating the fire ants but that depended on resources.

"We would love to have the resourcing to eradicate," she said.

"We could have them gone within five years if we're resourced to the maximum amount we need. The less resources we have the longer it's going to take and there's more risk for them to spread.

"We are supported through our national cost-share partners, one of which is the Queensland Government, and they have been really supportive of the fire ant project and have contributed money above and beyond what their normal contribution should be.

"But it's a matter of us being able to apply the number of treatments that we need.

"We're hoping to return to a full eradication phase in the middle of this year.

14-year battle to eliminate fire ants from south-east Queensland. Photo Contributed
14-year battle to eliminate fire ants from south-east Queensland. Photo Contributed

"Over the last couple of years, in agreement with our cost-share partners, we have been doing what we call the delimitation phase of the program, to say once and for all we know where they are."

A big contributor to the detection of fire ants has been the people with public reports making up about 70% of the program's detections. Biosecurity Queensland has developed a web and mobile app to help residents check the top five spots on their property quickly and easily.

"The other important thing about this reporting tool is we'd love to hear from people if they believe they don't have fire ants," Ms Corcoran said.

"So it's about the evidence of absence. Then we can target our efforts on continuing that eradication.

"We'd love to get 5000 people - that support from the public at least to provide us with that confidence to commence that eradication strategy again."

People can report whether they've found suspicious ants or not at anthunt.daf.qld.gov.au or by calling 13 25 23.

  • A mated female fire ant can fly up to 2km and start a colony.
  • Humans can spread fire ants by moving infested soil or other restricted items.
  • Fire ants are native to Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina. They entered the United States in the 1930s and have been spreading across the US ever since.
  • The pathway into Brisbane is unknown, but was possibly in a shipping container from the US.


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