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16 February 2004
Red imported fire ants have been found at the Port of Napier during
surveillance activity undertaken as part of the Ministry of Agriculture and
Forestry (MAF) national invasive ant programme.
Amelia Pascoe, MAF's Programme Coordinator says the finding of approximately
200 red imported fire ant workers over the weekend immediately triggered a
pest eradication response. MAF incursion inspectors are on site today carrying
out intense surveillance to find and destroy the source nest/s.
The ants were found in attractant bait traps which had been set in high risk areas including warm sunny sites close to water sources such as open drains
and creeks, dripping taps, leaky water mains, grassy areas, the base of trees,
under debris, logs, rocks and other areas favourable for ant colonisation.
Surveillance of these areas in the Napier region has been underway for the
last fortnight. Although it is not clear how the ants may have entered the
country, sea containers are a known risk pathway for the entry of unwanted
pests. Since 1 January 2004 six sided inspection of all sea containers has
been in place with further checks at MAF approved transitional facilities
during unloading. Additional checks have been put in place since the red
imported fire ant find.
Amelia Pascoe says red imported fire ants are a serious unwanted pest that
will aggressively defend their nest, swarming out and over the mound to
repeatedly sting anything that appears a threat. If red imported fire ants
were to establish in New Zealand they would pose a serious competitive threat
to our native fauna.
A sting from a red imported fire ant is similar to that of a bee or a wasp and
results intense burning or itching. A blister forms at the sting site within
five hours and a distinctive white pustule develops within a few days. The
stings although uncomfortable are not dangerous to most people. However, the
pustules can become infected if scratched, and on very rare occasions people
may have a more serious reaction.
Based on advice received from the Ministry of Health, Amelia Pascoe says
people who show symptoms of a fire ant sting should seek medical advice.
Infected stings are treated using antibiotics. If you believe you are having
an allergic reaction it is important to seek medical help immediately.
Over the last three years, as part of its national invasive ant programme set
up to assist the early detection of red imported fire ants and other exotic
ants, MAF has focussed surveillance and monitoring activity on high-risk
locations such as international ports, transitional facilities, container
yards and some nurseries.
An isolated find of a single red imported fire ant nest was made at Auckland
International Airport in March 2001. The nest was destroyed and ongoing
surveillance has found no further nests in the area.
Red imported fire ants are native to South America. They are reddish-brown in
colour and their size varies from 3 to 6mm in length, an ant longer than 6mm
will not be a red imported fire ants. Red imported fire ants build mounded
nests of fine granular soil of variable size and height - up to 40 cm.
Depending upon colony age, some mounds may not always be obvious.
If you think you may have found a red imported fire ant nest, please do not
disturb it, but call the MAF Exotic Disease and Pest Emergency Hotline on 0800
For more information on exotic ants go to:
For more information please call:
MAF Senior Communications Adviser
027 223 1875