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Byron Shire
May 20, 2024

Fire ants: a real barbecue-stopper

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Red fire ant found in Brisbane. AAP Image/Department of Primary Industries, Queensland. AAP Image/Department of Primary Industries, Queensland
Red fire ant found in Brisbane. AAP Image/Department of Primary Industries, Queensland. AAP Image/Department of Primary Industries, Queensland

Fire ants kill people, destroy crops and could spell the end to the great Australian barbie! So it is time to pull out all the stops and get the community on board to understand the threat.

Following accusations that Australia’s fire ant eradication program had struggled from ‘a lack of funding and a cumbersome, secretive structure’ a meeting between state, territory and the federal government on Wednesday July 26 signed off on a ten-year, $411.4 million plan to eradicate the ants.

‘Our fire ant fighters have finally been given the war chest they need to eradicate deadly fire ants from Australia,’ Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said.

‘This will be one of the largest biosecurity operations ever undertaken in Australia. It will be a long, hard fight, but is essential if we are to keep the country safe from the ravages of fire ants.

Fire ants are a serious environmental, human and agricultural pest in Australia. If not eradicated they will have a greater impact on Australia than rabbits, cane toads, foxes, camels, wild dogs and feral cats combined, costing more than $1 billion each year.

In the US where they are now out of control fire ants have caused the deaths of almost 100 people, wiped out native species and impacted on all aspects of life.

‘Only recently a new outbreak was uncovered 70km north of the fire ant biosecurity zone around Brisbane,’ Mr Cox said.

‘Thankfully the Sunshine Coast reaction was rapid and well publicised, responded well to community concerns and should be a model for the program in the future. But the discovery clearly demonstrates that Australia is running out of time to eradicate this destructive menace.’

Mr Cox commended the leadership shown in securing the decision at the meeting of agriculture ministers who supported more than doubling the fire anteradication budget, the 10-year eradication plan and a new steering committee and independent chair to keep the program on track.

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  1. Fire ants suck, but they don’t stop people barbecuing in the back yard. I live in Texas, and we have lots of fire ants, but no outdoor activities are ever cancelled because of them. We still have barbecues, picnics, garden parties, baseball games, soccer games, and seating on the grass for concerts, plays, and fireworks displays. You wouldn’t want to put a quilt for a picnic or for Symphony in the Park directly over them, but you wouldn’t want to do that with any other ants, either. Occasionally there’s a particularly troublesome colony–such as one around the roots of an unsightly weed you’d like to pull, but just work fast and you you can minimize the bites. The only people who die from fire ants are those who are allergic to their venom, and this is exceedingly rare. I poison any that build on the house foundation, sidewalks, patio, A/C unit, flower beds, etc., but I don’t worry about the ones in middle of the lawn. They do have their good points–fleas, ticks, and chiggers are much rarer than before the fire ants arrived.


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