‘Extreme risk of being invaded’: Fire ants advance almost into NSW

Fire ants ferociously defend their queen and eggs with bites that sear like flames.

Fire ants ferociously defend their queen and eggs with bites that sear like flames. Photo: Getty

Fire ants have been found within kilometres of the NSW border in the southernmost detection of the invasive pest.

The discovery of a nest at Tallebudgera on Queensland’s Gold Coast has authorities on high alert and prompted further calls for fast-tracked funding.

The nest, which has since been destroyed, was found on private land believed to be being used as a pony club five kilometres from the border.

“Residents in Tallebudgera and surrounding suburbs should be on the lookout for fire ants,” a spokesperson for a national eradication program said.

The discovery is eight kilometres south of a recent outbreak at a Miami school on the Gold Coast.

The detection has prompted the Invasive Species Council to repeat it calls for increased eradication efforts.

“This means that NSW is now at extreme risk of being invaded,” the council’s Reece Pianta said.

Short flight to the border

“The distance is now close enough for a single queen ant’s flight to spark a fire ant infestation across the border.”

The highly destructive ant is native to South America and poses a serious risk to agriculture, public health and native environments.

Fire ants have been in Australia since 2001 when they were found in Brisbane.

But there have been several recent significant detections in southeast Queensland since April as the ant continues its march.

A meeting of agriculture ministers in Perth last week failed to agree on funding to combat the super pest, despite identifying the “very real threat” it poses and endorsing a new response plan.

A recently released review of Australia’s fire ant eradication program found at least $3 billion was needed over the next five years to wipe out the pest.

The Invasive Species Council said the latest outbreak should be a massive wake-up call to Australia’s agriculture ministers.

‘They need to stop mucking around’

“They need to stop mucking around and get on with an urgent ramp-up of the eradication program,” Mr Pianta said.

“There are no excuses for further delay, underfunding and inaction.”

Federal agriculture minister Murray Watt told AAP that as a Gold Coast-based senator he was acutely aware of the ongoing risks.

“That’s why agriculture ministers agreed to fast-track funding,” Senator Watt said.

“By the end of the year, more than $400 million will have been spent over the past six years trying to stop the march of the fire ant.”


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