The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program formally commenced in September 2001, building on an emergency response after the discovery of fire ants in February 2001. The program is nationally funded by all Australian states and territories as well as the Commonwealth Government.
The program aims to eradicate this exotic pest, based on expertise shared by international specialists in this field, the program is discovering patterns of ant activity and developing new ways of beating the ants as new challenges arise.
As well as scientific and operational innovations and effort, community support is crucial in the fight to eliminate fire ants from Australia. The support from the South East Queensland community has been vital in reducing the number of fire ants and we urge all community members to continue to be on the lookout for fire ants. Please call 13 25 23 to report any suspicious ant activity.
Quick facts about the eradication program
- Fire ants were first discovered at the Port of Brisbane and at Richlands in February 2001. It is estimated that fire ants were here at least 20 years prior to this. Fortunately, we believe the pest was identified before it had caused significant damage or spread too far for eradication.
- Genetic analysis reveals there have been six different incursions of fire ants into Australia. Five recorded in Queensland and one in Port Botany, New South Wales.
- In Queensland, the first two incursions were discovered in 2001. One in the south western suburbs of Brisbane and the other at the Port of Brisbane. The third and fourth incursions were found in Yarwun, Central Queensland in 2006 and 2013. The fifth and most recent incursion was found at Brisbane Airport in 2015.
- Both the Port of Brisbane and the 2006 Yarwun incursions have been successfully eradicated and the 2013 Yarwun incursion is due to be declared eradicated in July 2016.
- Spread from the initial Brisbane infestation led to infestations around the greater Brisbane area including Ipswich, Logan and Redlands. Isolated infestations have also been found in the Scenic Rim, Gold coast and Lockyer Valley areas.
Odour detection dogs can find nests undetectable to the human eye.
Surveillance for fire ants is undertaken by field officers and odour detection dogs on the ground and by helicopters using remote sensing technology from the air.
Field officers visually check the ground, forming emu parades over large properties. Officers carry long sticks and prod piles of earth and tap pot plants to aid their visual search.
Odour detection dogs can find fire ant nests in difficult terrain and can sniff out one solitary ant. The dogs can find nests not visible to the human eye and can detect the foraging pheromone from up to 40m away. Our use of these dogs is a world first.
Revolutionary technology has been developed to facilitate the identification of fire ants from 150 metres in the air. A unique infra red and thermal camera system is mounted to a helicopter that can pinpoint fire ants nests while the chopper is in flight over large areas. This is a world first in fire ant detection technology.
Fire ant nests are promptly destroyed by a direct nest injection.
Fire ant nests are treated by a direct nest injection of chemicals and is carried out by qualified pest management technicians. The process involves spearing a rod into the ground around the nest and flooding the nest and tunnels with insecticide. The nest is also lightly showered with the liquid treatment.
The surrounding area is bait treated which involves spreading small pieces of corn soaked with an insect growth regulator across backyards and garden areas as well as parklands and paddocks. The insect growth regulator leads to the sterilisation of the fire ant colony's queen when eaten. The colony will then die-out over a period of weeks. Repeated bait treatment leads to the eradication of fire ants in the treatment area.
Properties within the treatment area that are larger than 5 hectares, may be suitable to be treated by helicopter. Treating by helicopter is quick and easy particularly in areas that can't be reached on foot or by vehicle. The helicopter flies 15m above the ground when releasing the bait. The bait is spread over vegetated areas, leaving a buffer of 40-100m around houses, water tanks and other structures.
The treatment only affects insects and does not harm people, animals or the environment. A person or animal would need to eat at least his or her own body weight of bait within 24 hours for any likelihood of sickness. Only very small quantities of bait (1/2 teaspoon per square metre) are used. The bait is formulated to be attractive to fire ants, with other insects unlikely to take it up. The chemicals used break down quickly in sunlight and contains less than 1% active chemical.
To prevent fire ants spreading to new areas, fire ant biosecurity zones have been established and movement controls are in place on items that could carry fire ants. Residents and businesses operating inside the declared fire ant biosecurity zones must adhere to the movement regulations.