Australia fights fire ant invasion
AUSTRALIA: The Australian government is to spend more than NZ$428m to turn back an invasion of killer ants that are spreading fear across the Pacific.
The red fire ant, a native of South America that is responsible for scores of deaths in the United States because of the severe allergic reaction some people have to its sting, has colonised parts of northeast Australia and is spreading towards Sydney.
The aggressive ants attack en masse.
They can also have a devastating impact on agriculture, with highly co-operative ‘‘super colonies’’ known to consume small livestock such as lambs and chickens and eat entire crops.
The red fire ants first spread to the US in the 1930s and are now established across most of the southern states.
The US government spends about US$7 billion a year on medical treatment for their victims, repairing the damage they cause and controlling them.
Barnaby Joyce, the deputy prime minister of Australia, said that in Texas, where red fire ants arrived in ships’ ballast decades ago, there had been at least 85 deaths from anaphylactic shock caused by their stings.
The ant has secured a foothold in southeast Queensland and has since marched south. The species was detected in Brisbane in 2001 but attempts to eradicate them have failed.
‘‘If they establish permanently in Queensland they will ruin our way of life and have serious health and environmental impacts,’’ the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said in a report.
‘‘Everyday activities such as barbecues, picnics and sporting events may no longer be possible in high infestation areas.’’
A review of attempts to eradicate the ants found that there was ‘‘only a small window of opportunity left’’ to wipe out an insect that had the potential to be the worst invasive species to ever enter Australia.
The report said that if the ants were not wiped out across the country they could be responsible for 3000 anaphylactic reactions in humans each year.
Most estimates suggest that the fire ant colonies are about 50km from the border of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.
Joyce said that he expected that the money given by the national government to the authorities in Queensland would ensure that the spread was halted. ‘‘I am calling on the Queensland government to now deliver the goods to eradicate this insidious pest once and for all and ensure this investment is wise money spent,’’ he said. - The Times
The red fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, has colonised parts of northeast Australia and is spreading towards Sydney.