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War On Argentine Ants Wanted

Contact: Karli Thomas ph: (04) 385-7374 work or (04) 385-3646 home Contact:
Kevin Smith ph: (04) 385-7374 work or (04) 934-2473 home

Forest and Bird wants war declared on the invasive Argentine ant before it spreads throughout New Zealand.

Forest and Bird's biosecurity awareness officer, Karli Thomas, has called on the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to lead a national programme against the ant - considered the second most serious ant pest in the world.

Argentine ants were first found in Auckland in 1990 at the site of the Auckland Commonwealth Games. It now covers a sizeable area of Auckland, with small satellite populations in Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Christchurch and a newly found one in the Wellington suburb of Kelburn.

M Thomas said the Argentine ant has a naturally slow rate of spread, but can be rapidly dispersed by human activities. "The ants are often spread when infested pot plants or vehicles are taken from one area to another."

The Argentine ant is native to Argentina and Brazil, but has spread to many countries causing problems for horticulture, conservation and households.

Ms Thomas said the ant caused alarm bells to ring for the Department of Conservation when an infestation was discovered on Tiritiri Matangi Island, an important conservation island in the Hauraki gulf. The Department of Conservation is planning to eradicate Argentine ants from the island.

"This ant can have serious impacts on native species, including wiping out native insects, competing with species that feed on honeydew and nectar, and is even known to kill fledgling birds in their nests."

Ms Thomas said that it is not just conservationists that should be worried about the ant. "The Argentine ant will be a nightmare for the horticulture industry. The ants feed on honeydew, a substance produced by insects like aphids and leafhoppers. The Argentine ant 'farms' these pests on plants, and will protect them from their natural predators. This creates problems for orchardists, particularly organic growers and others who use natural predators to control pests."

The ants are also a huge headache for households, as they get into microwaves, fridges and even screw-top jars. They are a hygiene risk in food preparation or storage areas, and have even been found infesting sterile medical equipment in the United States. They can bite when disturbed, and although the bite is not toxic to people, it can be irritating and cause allergy-type reactions.

Ms Thomas said that when the ant was first discovered in New Zealand, MAF unfortunately made the decision not to eradicate them. Australia has successfully eradicated an infestation covering 26 hectares using a new bait developed there.

Forest and Bird is calling for eradication of the satellite populations of Argentine ant in New Zealand, and for a blitz on the main Auckland infestation. "We need to eradicate them where we can, and contain its spread from Auckland".

If we act now it may be possible to eventually eradicate Argentine ants from New Zealand. If we don't act this ant will become a serious household, conservation and horticultural pest.

...... ends

For further information including fact sheet and background paper, contact Karli Thomas.


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