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Fire Ants: Time To Be Vigilant

The Ministry of Agriculture and Foresty (MAF) has announced that surveillance activities to confirm Fire Ants have been eradicated from New Zealand will continue this summer.

MAF Biosecurity is asking communities in the upper North Island region in particular to remain on the alert for signs of the reddish-brown Fire Ants.

Amelia Pascoe, MAF programme coordinator, says the large numbers of people spending time outdoors on their holidays provides an additional opportunity for detection of these exotic invaders. "We can never have enough eyes on the ground," she says.

An isolated nest of this invasive ant species, known as Red Imported Fire Ants (Solenopsis invicta), was found in a secure area at Auckland International Airport in February of this year and subsequently destroyed.

Following treatment of the nest, MAF Biosecurity carried out intensive surveillance at the airport and in surrounding areas, including wide circulation of information to local businesses and residents. This was followed by a national information campaign to inform vets, health officials and relevant organisations of the risk posed by the ants. To date there have been no further signs of Fire Ants.

Because Fire Ants are most likely to surface during periods of warm weather MAF Biosecurity will be increasing the level of active surveillance over the summer months.

It is extremely difficult for someone to distinguish Fire Ants from a New Zealand ant simply by looking at them. A telltale sign of an outdoors infestation by Fire Ants is the appearance of small mounds after wet weather. Fire Ants are a serious pest known for their aggressive behaviour when disturbed. They will defend their nest by swarming around it and unlike any other ant in New Zealand they can give a painful sting which will cause intense itching followed by the formation of distinct pustules (or blisters).

Details of targeted surveillance activities at New Zealand's international ports of entry are expected later this month.


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