As the weather gets cooler, fire ants build mounts above their nests to soak up the warmth of the sun. Fire ant mounds are now popping up in grazing land and along the sides of major roads near the township of Rosewood in south-east Queensland. Rosewood is within the Ipswich City Council local government area, and like most of Ipswich, has been infested with fire ants for years. Biosecurity Queensland has been treating the fire ant infestation in Ipswich for many years: with no effect. Fire ant nests popping up again in Rosewood is just more evidence that Biosecurity Queensland cannot kill fire ants. In 2009, the independent science review said ‘the efficacy of (Biosecurity Queensland’s) current treatment methods is questionable given that infestations are recurring in key or difficult habitats’, as they are in Rosewood, and the reviewers concluded that ‘fire ants cannot be eradicated from Brisbane using current techniques.’ It is obvious that nothing has changed. Biosecurity Queensland has spent $400m of public money and the fire ant infestation is now ten times worse than at the beginning. Nothing will change if Biosecurity Queensland continues to run any future fire ant eradication program. 4th June 2017 Photo courtesy Robert Burton, ex Biosecurity Queensland Fire Ant Inspector
Lots of fire ant nests are now popping up in grazing land and along the sides of major roads near the township of Rosewood. Fire ant nests are hard to find because they can stay underground for many months, but as the weather gets cooler, the ants build mounds above ground to capture the warmth of the sun: as they are doing now around Rosewood.
Rosewood and its surrounding farming land is located 12km west of the city of Ipswich and is part of the Ipswich City Council local government area in south-east Queensland. For many years now, Biosecurity Queensland has declared Rosewood and most of the rest of Ipswich, a ‘High-Risk’ fire ant area that needs to be treated intensively.
To kill fire ants, Biosecurity Queensland must intensively bait the entire infested area, and an area of at least 2km around it, three or four times a year for two or three years, to do the job. The bait is crushed corn soaked in oil containing the same low toxic chemicals we use to control mosquitoes and use in dog flea collars. They have little or no effect on humans or other animals. Worker ants feed the bait to the queen which makes her infertile and, after a few months, the nest collapses.
Inexplicably in July 2016, Biosecurity Queensland changed Rosewood’s fire ant status from ‘High Risk’ to a ‘Fire Ant Biosecurity Zone 2’: whatever that means. With fire ant nest popping up again around Rosewood, it certainly does not mean that Biosecurity Queensland has eradicated fire ants from Rosewood, or even reduced the level of the infestation.
Fire ants are a danger to people and cattle. Dozens of ants will swarm aggressively and inflict multiple burning stings on anyone or anything that disturbs their nest. If a person gets stung, the stings turn into itchy pustules that last for days. The pustules can become infected. Some people can go into anaphylactic shock. Some can people die.
Fire ants can invade pastures grazed by cattle or invade their feed bins or water sources; stinging them when they attempt to eat or drink. Stock losses due to fire ants is a significant cost to cattle producers in the USA.
Fire ants are still infesting Rosewood because Biosecurity Queensland cannot kill fire ants. It could be that Biosecurity Queensland is using bait spoiled from being stored in hot containers. It could be that Biosecurity Queensland is applying bait during rain events: making the bait useless. It could be that Biosecurity Queensland in not applying bait frequently enough during the treatment season from September to May. It could be that Biosecurity Queensland is not applying bait to every nook and cranny where fire ants can nest. It could be that Biosecurity Queensland’s practice of injecting an insecticide into fire ant nests is causing the nests to split and spread: a concern raised by independent scientists years ago. Or it could be all of those things. One thing is for sure though, nothing has changed since 2009 when the independent science review said ‘the efficacy of (Biosecurity Queensland’s) current treatment methods is questionable given that infestations are recurring in key or difficult habitats’ as they are in Rosewood, and concluded that ‘fire ants cannot be eradicated from Brisbane using current techniques.’
Biosecurity Queensland has spent $400m of public money over the past sixteen years, much of it wasted. Biosecurity Queensland cannot kill fire ants: consequently, the fire ant infestation in south-east Queensland now covers over 400,000ha – ten times more than in 2001.
The Australian Agricultural Ministers Council will meet in July to decide the future of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program. For the sake of Queensland and the rest of Australia we have to hope the Ministers decide to continue to fund a fire ant program. But the Ministers will be throwing more good public money after bad if Biosecurity Queensland continues to run any future fire ant program.