Aus­tralia fights fire ant in­va­sion

Waikato Times Weekend - - WORLD -

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

PHOTO: UNIVER­SITY OF TEXAS

The red fire ant, Solenop­sis in­victa, has colonised parts of north­east Aus­tralia and is spread­ing to­wards Syd­ney.

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