Survey for red imported fire ants underway

14 March 2001

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in consultation with the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Health and Auckland Regional Council is conducting a delimiting survey at the Auckland International Airport after red imported fire ants were found there last week.

A nest of fire ants was found and treated last week at the international airport. All the ants in the nest were killed on that visit and an intensive survey of the surrounding 100 metres did not find further signs of ants.

Amelia Pascoe, MAF's Programme Co-ordinator, Exotic Animal Response said that while there were no further signs of the fire ants, it was important to ensure that if any other nests had started to establish nearby that they would be detected and treated early.

Fire ants are uniform golden to reddish brown in colour and are up to 6mm long. They have a nasty sting that forms small white pustules that may last for several days. The ants will aggressively attack when their mound of dirt at their nest entrance is disturbed and their bite causes a painful, fiery sensation, similar to a wasp or a bee sting.

The fire ant has the potential to become established in any environment.

The delimiting survey will check that there are no more red fire ants around the airport. It will include an intensive search of the area within a 500-metre radius around the terminated nest site, followed by a grid search. Regular monitoring of the area will continue for at least the next 12 months.

People, particularly those living near the airport, airport staff and local farmers in the area, are asked to look out for the fire ant. An information sheet on how to identify the fire ant is being developed by MAF, the Ministry of Health, Department of Conservation and the Auckland Regional Council.

There are a number of less vigorous species of red ants established in New Zealand. However, if anyone notices large mounds of soil or is stung by what they suspect to be a fire ant then they should telephone the MAF exotic disease hotline on 0800-809-966 to report their findings.

Because the ant can deliver a painful sting, a suspected fire ant nest should not be disturbed. If anyone gets stung and is concerned that they may be suffering an allergic reaction medical help should be sought.

The red imported fire ant is native to South America, but has spread to a number of countries including the United States and Australia. They are considered to pose a significant threat to biodiversity, horticultural and agriculture. Red imported fire ants are also a general nuisance around the home and garden.

For further information contact:

Amelia Pascoe, MAF's Programme Co-ordinator, Exotic Animal Response

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33