February 28, 2024

Invasive fire ants are continuing their march south, prompting a plea for vigilance, after a nest of fire ants was detected at Wardell, south of Byron Bay, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries says.

A gardener raised the alarm on Friday after disturbing the nest and being bitten, suffering what was described as blistering pain.

Authorities are due to examine the site on Saturday and destroy it with insecticide.

The insects are reddish-brown and measure two to six millimetres and can be aggressive when disturbed.

The department is still working to establish how long they have been in the area and how they arrived.

The new detection was “very alarming” said Reece Pianta of the Invasive Species Council.

“This is a very alarming development. The government must spare no expense in responding to this outbreak and the whole community should treat this very, very seriously,” he said.

“We have long feared that the Murwillumbah outbreak would not be the only case of spread of this super pest into NSW.

Last week, Pianta saw the first video evidence of fire ants locking together to form rafts to escape from flood waters on a cane farm in the northern Gold Coast. The footage was taken by a farmer and showed how the insect is able to evade floods, using them to reach and then colonise new areas.

More wet weather is expected in the region, with the Bureau of Meteorology issuing a thunderstorm warning for northern NSW, including Wardell, on Saturday.

“Everyone in the northern rivers should be out checking for fire ants, particularly if you have had any recent material delivered to your property like soil, turf or mulch,” said Pianta.

The ants can be found in south-east Queensland and were first detected in NSW in November at a property 13 kilometres south of the border.

Fire ants are native to South America and arrived in Australia in the 1990s in freight.

The nation’s bid to eradicate them will be examined in a Senate inquiry.

The federal agriculture minister, Murray Watt, has previously said they could cause more damage to agriculture and the environment than all other invasive bests combined.

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