Noxious Biting ants Invade Cairns

Submitted by Webmaster on Thu, 01/06/2006 - 09:38

Three weeks and two days ago, I found ants in Cairns that fitted the description of fire ants. Fire ants are probably the worlds most serious invasive pest and you can get some idea of what the do by visiting the Fire Ant Control Centre website. Today or yesterday, the government announced its eradication program. Eradication of these ants is a matter of national importance. I found the ants only because when I asked if anyone liked swimming in a beautiful in-ground swimming pool, the reply was that the pool was full of biting ants. I immediately took a good look and the surface of the pool was covered in fine brown powder, like cinnamon. At first, I thought that the powder was spores from the nearby tree ferns however on close examination, a good part of the material was ant body parts. Eventually I located some floating ants but could not locate a nest. The next day I submitted a sample to the entomologist at the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and so the wheels started to turn – see the governments media release.An important note is that a number of people had already been savaged by these stinging ants and no one’s alarms had gone off. Even a commercial gardener (who is required by law to report fire ants and who should know) had been attacked and had not thought fire ant. Despite all of the publicity of the fire ants in South East Queensland it seems that in Cairns public and industry awareness of the issue is essentially non-existent.Given that fire ants are capable of ecocide – the destruction of entire ecosystems, perhaps the government should be a little bit more enthusiastic about educating Australians about these threats. The more eyes on the ground the better. The best approach would be to improve awareness of fire ants amongst the professional consulting community and in industries which are likely to come into contact with fire ants such as the pest control industry or the landscaping industry. Future of Cairns has been aware of this issue for some time and has been asking the government to provide better information.Steve Irwin might be telling us that we need to be vigilant about things coming into Australia but there is very little follow up information on what to actually look out for. I personally knew of the threat of fire ant for many years before they were detected in Australia but found it almost impossible to get a good description of the ants so that I could keep an eye out for them. In fact the only information I had about the Wasmannia ants was that they savage plant collectors who harvest seeds in the rainforests of New Caledonia. I would dearly like to have a collection of invasive ants set in resin so that I have a basic idea of what they look like. Electric ants are very small, much smaller than kitchen ants and are brown. We hope to provide some pictures of the ants soon.Please note that are several species of fire ant and there may also be other invasive ants that are not yet known to the government so please forward all samples to DPI in Redden Street for formal identification (Tel: 4044 1640). It took two professional entomologists with very good microscopes to confirm the identity of the ants I collected. Accurate ant identification is not something that can be done by even professional zoologists in the field. The only way to be sure is to compare sampled ants with specimen ants under a microscope and this is DPI’s job.



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