Fire ants could cost the Australian economy billions of dollars per year, if left unchecked.
Fire ants have the potential to surpass the combined damage done each year by our worst pests: feral cats, wild dogs, foxes, camels, rabbits and cane toads.
They can also affect our tourism industries, making popular destinations unattractive.
Lifestyle business costs
Fire ant nests can be a serious problem in lawns, parks, sporting fields and other large expanses of greenspace.
Because they are so aggressive and fire ant nests can hold tens of thousands of ants, they can significantly impact our ability to enjoy sport and recreation areas.
Fire ants can damage sensitive electrical equipment like air conditioners, meter boxes and traffic signal boxes.They can nest in the dark crevices these offer, moving in soil.
Chewing the insulation can also interfere with the electrical equipment’s function and cause a short circuit.
Agriculture business costs
Fire ants increase costs to agricultural businesses and could affect export arrangements to countries free of fire ants.
- More than 50 agricultural and horticultural crops, as well as turf and nursery species, are affected by fire ants. All are grown in Australia, in areas that fire ants could inhabit.
- They can damage and kill some plants by tunnelling through roots and stems.
- Fire ant mounds can destroy equipment, such as irrigation systems and damage machinery during harvesting operations.
- They protect some species of pest insects that produce 'honeydew'. This downgrades the quality of produce and helps spread some diseases.
- Feed on important biological control agents, interfering with integrated pest management practices. Infestations in USA have caused 35% reduction in potato yield in Florida, and 65% reduction in corn yield in Mississippi.
- Fire ants have been known to attack young animals and livestock, stinging around eyes, mouth and nose, leading to blindness and suffocation.
- They can prevent animals from reaching food or water without being seriously stung, leading to starvation and dehydration.
Fire ants are a big problem in other countries, particularly the United States. The U.S economy spends billions of dollars each year trying to manage this invasive pest.
Some strategies and projects are attempting to manage fire ants:
- America's fire ant situation and the biological controls being trialled there from the United States Department of Agriculture.
- California Fire Ant Eradication Program run by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
- Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Plan, other fire ant information including education and research materials from Texas A&M University.