MAF receives funding for surveillance programme for Fire Ants

20 December 2001

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has received special funding of $1.1 million for a programme of targeted surveillance activities for Fire Ants.

Amelia Pascoe, MAF programme coordinator, says the Government funding will allow targeted surveillance at New Zealand's international ports of entry and surrounding land over the summer period as well as a public information campaign.

The aim of the surveillance is to confirm that ants at the known incursion site (Auckland International Airport) have been eradicated and to ensure no colonies have established at other sites. Targeted areas will include sites where containers are unpacked. The programme will include visual surveillance, pit fall traps and laying baited ground traps.

Once established Fire Ants are highly invasive and have the potential to be a serious pest capable of causing widespread harm to the environment, public health, urban areas and primary production at a cost of millions of dollars.

"Since the detection and destruction of a single nest of Fire Ants at Auckland International Airport in February there have been no further finds. However, we know from our Australian counterparts who are spending more than A$120 million in an attempt to eradicate Fire Ants in Queensland, that we need to be as vigilant as possible.

It is extremely difficult for someone to distinguish Fire Ants from a New Zealand ant simply by looking at them. A telltale sign of an outdoors infestation by Fire Ants is the appearance of small mounds after wet weather.

Fire Ants are a serious pest known for their aggressive behaviour when disturbed. They will defend their nest by swarming around it and unlike any other ant in New Zealand they can give a painful sting which will cause intense itching followed by the formation of distinct pustules (or blisters). Anyone who suspects they have been stung by Fire Ants and believe they are having an allergic reaction should seek medical advice.

For further information contact:

Amelia Pascoe, MAF Programme Co-ordinator on (04) 470 2785 or (021) 770 310 or Stephen Olsen, MAF Communications Adviser on (04) 470 2753 or (025) 977 028

More information is available on the MAF website at www.biosecurity.govt.nz

Additional information

  • To report a suspected finding of Fire Ants call the MAF Exotic Pest Hotline on 0800 809 966. Note: Callers will be asked a number of questions relating to the find. Based on these results calls are ranked as High Risk (close match with Fire Ants), Low Risk (unlikely to be Fire Ants, but can't be ruled out) and Negligible Risk (highly unlikely to be Fire Ants). Callers will be asked to leave contact details and the 0800 operators will notify MAF staff or a MAF contractor who will aim to contact the caller on the next working day.
  • Undisturbed mounds would typically be found in open, sunny spaces and can be up to 45 centimetres high and 60 centimetres in diameter. However, mounds will vary significantly in appearance and in size depending on the substrate in which they are formed. Pictures of typical mounds can be viewed at http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/pests/red-imported-fire-ant
  • Colonies of Fire Ants can contain from 10-100 queens that lay up to 800 eggs per day. Colony reproduction usually occurs after a rain event when temperatures are warm (20+ Celsius). After swarming the mated queens drop to the ground and begin burrowing to start a new colony. In some cases ants may start a new nest by walking short distances from an existing colony. This often occurs following disturbance of a nest, so care should be taken by people not to disturb suspect nests.
  • Established colonies of Fire Ants were detected in Brisbane, Queensland in February of this year. For details about the Fire Ants eradication programme in Queensland visit the following website: www.dpi.qld.gov.au/fireants/
  • Fire Ants are native to South America.

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33