Thursday, December 08, 2016

Australia and the spreading threat of the red fire ant

The red fire ant is a particularly nasty invasive species. The photo shows a worker ant.

The ants appears to have first reached Brisbane via a container ship from New York in 2001. Once discovered, a well publicised emergency eradication campaign was launched. The matter then seems to have vanished from main stream media coverage and I assumed that eradication had been successful despite the difficulties involved.

An ABC news report by science reporter Jake Sturmer and the National Reporting Team's Alison Branley shows just how wrong I was.
Just 40 kilometres south of Brisbane, the city of Ipswich is being held to ransom by the South American pest. 
Mayor Paul Pisasale said just two suburbs in the city were now unaffected. "These things are just marching all over the place," he said. 
Council staff have had to be trained in identifying the ants and there are strict measures around soil movement. 
"The worst one was Leslie Park at Goodna. We had to close the park," Cr Pisasale said.
Despite eradication successes, there are now questions as to whether Australia has lost the chance to eradicate the pest, with infestation now just 50 k from the Northern NSW border.

I didn't know much about the ants, but the Wikipedia story on the species shows how well organised they are, how quickly they can breed and spread. You can see why eradication or even control can be difficult.

Speaking personally, if there is the slightest chance of eradicating the ant, then we should go with it. Looking at the distribution of the ants in the US, large slabs of South East Australia would appear to be a suitable habitat, including the major coastal cities. I definitely don't want a fire ant in my backyard!    

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