Alarm as new NSW fire ant infestation found at Wardell, 85 km south of Queensland border

Invasive Species

The Invasive Species Council are calling for a massive government and community response to the breaking news that at least one new fire ant nest has been found in NSW at Wardell, 85 km south of the Queensland border.

‘This is a very alarming development. The government must spare no expense in responding to this outbreak and the whole community should treat this very, very seriously,’ said Reece Pianta, Advocacy Manager for the Invasive Species Council.

‘We have long feared that the Murwillumbah outbreak would not be the only case of spread of this super pest into NSW and now we have them turning up south of Byron Bay at Wardell.

‘The threat of fire ants to our environment, agriculture and communities is so significant that eradication cannot be allowed to fail.

‘Everyone in the northern rivers should be out checking for fire ants, particularly if you have had any recent material delivered to your property like soil, turf or mulch.

‘This infestation was identified by a member of the public who was painfully stung by these fire ants.  We need the government to urgently ramp up community education and engagement across the whole of northern NSW.

‘This new infestation 85 km south of the Queensland border should also trigger an urgent review of the adequacy of fire ant eradication funding by the Albanese Government.

‘A comprehensive government study from 2021 found that between $200 and $300 million annually would be required over the next 10 years or Australia would face at least a $2 billion cost per year from fire ants forever. At the moment the planned funding is only half that amount.

‘Fire ants are one of the world’s worst super pests and, if they are allowed to spread across the continent, their economic impact will be greater than cane toads, rabbits, feral cats and foxes combined.

‘They will devastate Australia’s environment and agriculture, cost our economy billions annually and we could see over 140,000 extra medical visits every year as they sting Australians at the park or in the backyard.

‘Fire ants are a national problem for Australia and money spent now saves billions down the track.’


How to look, snap and report a suspected fire ant nest:

  1. Keep your eyes peeled for suspicious ants or ant mounds when you’re out in the garden, at the park, taking a walk, camping or at the beach. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what type of ant it is, every report is vital information for the eradication program.
  2. Be mindful of your safety if you think you have found fire ants. Keep your distance and do not put yourself, clothing or belongings in direct contact with fire ants or their nests.
  3. Take a photo or short video of the ants on your smartphone. Try to take a few close ups of the ants and their nest.
  4. Report fire ants to:

Background information on fire ants:

  • Six nests were reported by a property owner in South Murwillumbah in north-eastern NSW, 13 kilometres south of the Queensland border. A nest was also identified in mid-December on the Queensland-New South Wales border at Currumbin Valley.
  • Fire ants are dark reddish-brown with a darker black-brown abdomen and range in size from two to six millimetres long. Their ant nests are distinctive mounds of loose, crumbly or fluffy-looking soil with a honeycomb appearance, up to 40 centimetres high, with no obvious entrance holes.
  • Red imported fire ants can damage electrical and agricultural equipment, sting people, pets and livestock, kill native plants and animals, and damage ecosystems beyond repair.
  • Those who breach the emergency biosecurity order could face significant penalties with fines for breaches reaching up to $1.1 million for an individual and up to $2.2 million for a corporation.
  • A ten-year proposed eradication program has been developed, with $592 million required in the first 4 years. The NSW, Queensland, Commonwealth, Northern Territory, ACT, and Victorian governments have committed to their portion of funding for this, but the program is still $59 million underfunded because no commitments have been made yet by the South Australia, Western Australian and Tasmanian Governments.
  • The 2021 National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program strategic review estimated that at least $200 to $300 million per year will be required for ongoing eradication efforts to achieve eradication by 2032.
  • Fire ants can be lethal to humans, are expected to have a $2 billion per year impact on Australia’s economy if they get out of control, will devastate wildlife, cut agricultural output by up to 40% and may cause over one hundred thousand extra medical appointments each year.
  • Fire ants can form rafts during flood events, stowaway in freight or soil, or spread by Queen ant flights of around 5 km per year (and up to 30 km in favourable conditions).
  • Fire ants came into Australia in the late 90s in freight from the United States, they were found in 2001. Fire ants are originally from South America.
  • Fire ants have spread across most of the southern United States, and are spreading in China at a rate of about 80 km per year. Australia has managed to contain fire ants in south east Queensland for 20 years however under-resourcing has prevented successful eradication.

About the Invasive Species Council

The Invasive Species Council campaigns for stronger laws, policies and programs to protect Australia’s native plants and animals from environmental weeds, feral animals and other invaders.

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