Super minds vs super pests

Fire ant bait that can be used in wet weather, backyard bait stations, interfering with ant DNA and spotting fire ants from the sky are just some of the projects being perfected by some of the best scientific minds in the world.

National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Science Leader Ross Wylie said every available weapon was being used in the battle against one of the world’s most invasive pests.

“Fire ants are tough, highly-adaptable and relentless — we have to outsmart them at every turn,” he said.

“We are working on multiple scientific approaches, which could be game-changers in the long fight to rid Australia of the fire ant menace once and for all.

“To overcome the problem of fire ant bait breaking down in wet weather, our science team is working with collaborators to develop water-resistant bait. One option is a compressed corn grit and the other involves adding a clay-like coating to our fire ant bait.

“We’ve also partnered with the University of Queensland to use ‘gene-silencing’ in fire ant control. We’ve had some very promising results combining a particular acid with tiny clay nanoparticles which, when added to our fire ant bait and eaten by the pest, switches off reproduction genes and disrupts their lifecycle.

“There’s also a trial of fire ant bait stations designed for safe use in residential backyards. These user-friendly, refillable bait stations are similar to those available for termites.

“Another important project is the use of very high resolution cameras fitted to helicopters, which can map large areas and show where fire nests are.

“The images captured by the cameras show the heat of fire ant nests compared to the cooler surrounding area. An artificial intelligence program, similar to that used in self-driving cars, identifies objects and identifies likely fire ant nests.

“Results of early trials are impressive. We’ll be doing more aerial and field data collection throughout winter to finely tune this technology and get it ready for the field as soon as possible.”

The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program’s 10-year plan began in 2017. It is the largest invasive ant eradication program in the world and is on track to eradicate fire ants from South East Queensland.

The nationally cost-shared eradication program is on behalf of all Australian jurisdictions and operates under guidance from a national Steering Committee, with an independent chair.

To find out more or to report fire ants, visit daf.qld.gov.au/fireants or call 13 25 23.