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Red fire ants found during exotic ant surveillance

Red imported fire ants found during exotic ant surveillance

Red imported fire ants have been found at the Port of Napier during surveillance activity undertaken as part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) national invasive ant programme.

Amelia Pascoe, MAF’s Programme Coordinator says the finding of approximately 200 red imported fire ant workers over the weekend immediately triggered a pest eradication response. MAF incursion inspectors are on site today carrying out intense surveillance to find and destroy the source nest/s.

The ants were found in attractant bait traps which had been set in high risk areas including warm sunny sites close to water sources such as open drains and creeks, dripping taps, leaky water mains, grassy areas, the base of trees, under debris, logs, rocks and other areas favourable for ant colonisation.

Surveillance of these areas in the Napier region has been underway for the last fortnight. Although it is not clear how the ants may have entered the country, sea containers are a known risk pathway for the entry of unwanted pests. Since 1 January 2004 six sided inspection of all sea containers has been in place with further checks at MAF approved transitional facilities during unloading. Additional checks have been put in place since the red imported fire ant find. Amelia Pascoe says red imported fire ants are a serious unwanted pest that will aggressively defend their nest, swarming out and over the mound to repeatedly sting anything that appears a threat. If red imported fire ants were to establish in New Zealand they would pose a serious competitive threat to our native fauna.

A sting from a red imported fire ant is similar to that of a bee or a wasp and results intense burning or itching. A blister forms at the sting site within five hours and a distinctive white pustule develops within a few days. The stings although uncomfortable are not dangerous to most people. However, the pustules can become infected if scratched, and on very rare occasions people may have a more serious reaction.

Based on advice received from the Ministry of Health, Amelia Pascoe says people who show symptoms of a fire ant sting should seek medical advice. Infected stings are treated using antibiotics. If you believe you are having an allergic reaction it is important to seek medical help immediately.

Over the last three years, as part of its national invasive ant programme set up to assist the early detection of red imported fire ants and other exotic ants, MAF has focussed surveillance and monitoring activity on high-risk locations such as international ports, transitional facilities, container yards and some nurseries. An isolated find of a single red imported fire ant nest was made at Auckland International Airport in March 2001. The nest was destroyed and ongoing surveillance has found no further nests in the area.

Red imported fire ants are native to South America. They are reddish-brown in colour and their size varies from 3 to 6mm in length, an ant longer than 6mm will not be a red imported fire ants. Red imported fire ants build mounded nests of fine granular soil of variable size and height – up to 40 cm. Depending upon colony age, some mounds may not always be obvious.

If you think you may have found a red imported fire ant nest, please do not disturb it, but call the MAF Exotic Disease and Pest Emergency Hotline on 0800 809 966.

For more information on exotic ants go to: http://www.maf.govt.nz/biosecurity/pests-diseases/animals/invasive-ants-brochure.pdf

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