With a STING that burns like you have been SET ON FIRE, these potentially deadly Red Fire Ants are spreading to New South Wales from Queensland!
The control program to eradicate these aggressive Fire Ants in Queensland moving south has failed! Now the NSW government has given an emergency order is restricting the movement of as soil, mulch, hay, turf, and other high-risk materials, from within a 5km radius of any site where any Fire Ants have been found, as well as cross-border checks.
This is bad news, as the whole of Australia is a suitable habitat for this super pest. Imagine not being able to walk around in thongs or children not being able to play in backyards! They are dangerous to the agricultural industry and devastate wildlife. Fire Ants will impact on Australia’s ability to trade because other countries are monitoring what happens with these ants!
If they have spread and are not eradicated, life in Sydney and other large parts of Australia will be irrevocably changed.
1. Why is it important to keep fire ants out of NSW?
It is important to keep NSW free from fire ants because if they are established, it will have a huge impact on the way residents live their lives and could affect the states export markets and ability to trade. Fire Ants will cause serious social, economic, and environmental harm!
Fire Ants can: –
- Damage electrical and agricultural equipment by chewing through electrical insulation resulting in extensive damage to electric motors, air conditioner, pumps, transformers, telephone exchanges, signal boxes, and other devices.
- Structural problems result under paving, driveways and retaining walls as Fire Ants build their nests and mounds by excavating so much soil.
- Sting people in severe cases people require hospitalisation and allergic reactions can result in death although this is rare.
- Sting pets, and livestock as they commonly invade houses and injure pets if these are tied, penned, or caged and unable to escape.
- Kill native plants and animals!
- Damage ecosystems beyond repair
2. What are the Environmental consequences of failure?
The ecological impacts of these aggressive predators are numerous. They affect the entire ecosystems by reducing plant populations. Red imported fire ants are omnivores, preying on invertebrates or vertebrates and eating plants and honeydew They reduce plant populations by destroying seeds and harvest honeydew from specialised invertebrates, disrupting seed dispersal, pollination, and germination. They compete with native herbivores as well as frogs, reptiles, birds, and mammals for food.
These aggressive predators can affect the environment as they feed on fauna that nests or feeds on the ground including insects and can displace or eliminate some native species.
Further up the food chain populations of turtles, mice, snakes, and other vertebrates could halve as they have done in Queensland, due to Fire Ants infestation.
3. How do Fire Ants impact outdoor lifestyle?
When a Fire Ants mound is disturbed, thousands of Ants swarm to the surface and continually sting the intruder. This makes infested gardens and parks uninhabitable for human, pets, and domestic animals.
If infestation occurs everyday activities such as outdoor play and picnics as well as sporting activities. Backyards, parks, playgrounds, sports grounds, and beaches become unusable. People must avoid these areas to safeguard exposure to Ants.
This means people cannot have picnics on the lawn, sit or lie on the ground, go barefoot or even stay standing for too long in one spot. Even gardening or mowing can result in stings.
4. How will a Fire Ants infestation affect the economy of NSW?
Due to the threat that Fire Ants invading NSW the government plan to spend an $95 million over the next four years to protect the State and partner in the ongoing response to red Fire Ants. This is far less than the costs of failing to halt the spread as they march closer to NSW border from Queensland.
Damage to roads, footpaths, electrical equipment, and farming equipment would seriously harm the economy. Fire Ants can damage crops, rob beehives, and kill newborn livestock threatening the farming industry.
During droughts Fire Ants overrun the margins of dams and livestock cannot reach water without being dangerously stung. Containing the spread would provide and estimated economic benefit of more than $1 billion per year in avoided costs and impacts. Their presence limits the ability to export goods to states or countries free of red imported fire ants.
These pests could damage crops and households would be liable for costs of pesticides, veterinary bills, and electrical faults.
5. How would eradication of Fire Ants be achieved
Eradication for Fire Ants is not an easy fix. To achieve eradications colonies, must be detected and destroyed as early as possible. In Queensland, colonies can be found by using high definition visual, near infrared (a portion of radiation that is just beyond the visible spectrum) and thermal imaging.
NSW has a Fire Ant surveillance program and is ready to respond if the Fire Ants are found. The best method for destroying Fire Ant colonies is a bait with a delayed toxicity, this allows the worker ants to take it to the queen deep in the colony. After consuming the bait, the active ingredients are circulated around the colony leading to the death of the worker ants, larvae and most importantly the queen,
Fire Ant bait consists of small pieces of corn grit soaked in soybean oil soaked in either Insect growth regulator or fast-acting insecticide. Other Fire Ant treatments available are approved in Australia to be safe for humans, pets, and wildlife. The treatments are specifically targeted to kill ants and after the bait is distributed it breaks down quickly, within days.
6. How would larger acreages be treated for Fire Ant Infestation?
For larger areas three main methods for spreading bait are:-
- On foot with hand-held spreader on properties and blocks
- Using a helicopter on large acreage properties. Aerial treatment means less disruption for property owners and managers. It enables the treatment of hundreds of thousands of hectares each treatment season.
- Using a utility-terrain vehicle or quad bike
Once treated the area is under surveillance (human and aerial) and monitored to see if any remaining Fire Ant nests are found, so they can be quickly treated. Specifically trained odour detection dogs are used until the area is declared free of Fire Ants
7. What do Fire Ants look like?
Fire ants are dark reddish-brown in colour with a darker black-brown abdomen. They are 2-6mm long and while they look like other ants their nests are distinctive with mounds of loose, crumbly looking “fluffy’ soil that are low and squat. Fire Ants colonies generally contain 200,000 to 400,000 workers, although some super colonies have many millions.
New mounds start as small piles of excavated soil and may be indistinguishable from those of other ant species. The mounds are built in open areas and may number more than 100 per acre. The mounds differ from other ant mounds because there is no obvious ‘entry’ hole.
Community support is needed to be on the lookout for Fire Ants. Looking for them in sunny open areas, including lawns, gardens, parks, school grounds, sports fields, golf courses, paddocks, roadsides and in particular- disturbed soil.
If a nest is touched or kicked the ants respond with a rapid vertical climb, during which the sting their target often multiple times as they fasten themselves to the skin by clamping down with their powerful jaws, the inject painful venom into the flesh with the stinger located on their hind end.
8.Why are Fire Ants harmful to humans?
They are named Fire Ants due to their painful sting feeling like you have been set on fire. These ants can both bite and sting.
Their stings inject the alkaloid, a class of naturally occurring organic nitrogen-containing bases. This venom is injected under the skin and causes red bumps that contain fluid or pus.
In some people who are hyposensitive symptoms include breathing difficulties, excessive sweating, nausea, chest pains, swelling of face and eyes, anaphylactic shock, and in rare cases coma. Allergic reactions could threaten a person’s life.
A fire ant sting is not barbed, like a bee, meaning it can deliver multiple stings without dying.
Some Fire Ant stings can turn into raised lesions which are unsightly, painful, and subject to infection. The lesions die down within a couple of weeks but will leave superficial scarring for a month or so. The lesions are red with a white tip.
9. How long do Fire Ant bites last?
The venom can induce a strong and prolonged immune response. The area around the bite quickly becomes inflamed and dotted with itchy red bumps. Within a day or two the bumps develop into fluid-filled blisters.
Itching follows the pain which lasts a week or more Normal swelling from ant venom can increase for 24 hours after the sting with the redness lasting for up to 3 days and the swelling around 7 days.
Infection can happen so it is vital to take care and keep the area protected, clean and free from dirt. If infection does happen, then the effects of the bite will only subside when treated by a doctor.
10. How do you treat a Fire Ant bite or sting?
Over the counter antihistamines can help dull the initial effects of the pain. Hydrocortisone cream and ice packs can also help to ease the pain and swelling.
As a single Fire Ant can bite and sting multiple times it is advised to briskly rub them off the skin as soon as you feel them bite. At the same time stepping away from the area where the bite has been received then inhibits additional ants who may have been disturbed from attacking. The area must be washed as quickly as possible to get ahead of possible infection.
In most cases swelling is confined to the bite and settles in a few days. If the symptoms do not respond to the medications a doctor will then prescription strength creams or tablets.
Sometimes a Fire Ant bite can make a person’s entire body react to the sting. Symptoms of stomach cramps, diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting occur. The victim’s tongue could swell, and they may have trouble breathing and swallowing. Occasionally Fire Ants could cause anaphylaxis which is a life-threatening allergic reaction.