NSW Government responds to detection of Red Imported Fire Ants in northern NSW

25 Nov 2023

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have confirmed the detection of three red imported fire ant nests – with surveillance ongoing - in South Murwillumbah in north-eastern NSW, 13 kilometres south of the Queensland border.

This is the first fire ant detection in Northern NSW and presumed to be the most southern report of fire ants from the Queensland infestation.

The detection in NSW triggers the National Fire Ant Eradication Program response which is part of the $600 million eradication plan developed by the Australian governments.

The NSW Government is working closely with the Commonwealth and the Queensland Governments, plus Tweed Shire Council. Experienced teams are on site chemically eradicating the infestation across a radius of 200 metres from the found sites.

Following detection of the fire ants the National Plan releases four subsequent actions - eradication, control, tracing and communications.

NSW DPI are leading the control, tracing, and communications by implementing an emergency biosecurity order across a radius of five kilometres from the site in South Murwillumbah.

All businesses and residents within that radius are restricted in how they can move potential fire ant carrier materials without permission. The following types of materials are restricted: mulch, woodchips, compost, sand, gravel, soil, hay and other baled products.

NSW DPI Officers and detection dogs are working on determining the extent of the infestation, undertaking genetic testing of the fire ants, and searching all properties within the control radius.

To date, NSW DPI fire ant preparedness activities have involved stakeholder engagement and training to 67,000 industry and community stakeholders in the northern border zone of NSW, through face-to-face engagements, electronic direct mail and letterbox drops.

Fire ants are dark reddish-brown with a darker black-brown abdomen and range in size from two to six millimetres long. Their ant nests are distinctive mounds of loose, crumbly or fluffy looking soil with a honeycomb appearance, up to 40 centimetres high, with no obvious entrance holes.

Red imported fire ants can damage electrical and agricultural equipment, sting people, pets and livestock, kill native plants and animals, and damage ecosystems beyond repair.

Those who breach the emergency biosecurity order could face significant penalties with fines for breaches reaching up to $1.1 million for an individual and up to $2.2 million for a corporation.

Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Regional New South Wales and Minister for Western New South Wales, Tara Moriarty said:

“We are prepared for this discovery of fire ants in northern NSW and have immediately implemented our response plan which is part of the $600 million national program.

“I have spoken with my counterpart in Canberra, Senator Watt, and local parliamentary representatives across governments so that we are all aligned and actioning our prepared plans.

“I am in contact with our teams on the ground who are enforcing the emergency control order, tracing where this infestation may have originated from and monitoring the immediate chemical eradication of the fire ants.

“Our teams are focused on limiting further spread, and encouraging reporting and compliance through a targeted communications campaign.

“Red imported fire ants are a terrible invasive pest, which cause serious social, economic, and environmental harm, which is why the Minns Government this year committed $95 million towards the National Fire Ant Eradication Program.

“Biosecurity is a shared responsibility, and as our fire ant response ramps up in northern NSW, I encourage everyone to continue to check their properties for these pests. With the Christmas cross-border travel season approaching, we all must be careful of what we’re moving and where.

“Finding fire ants early and alerting NSW DPI, just like the community member has done in this instance, will increase our chances of a successful eradication effort.

“We will continue to keep the community informed of progress and will continue working closely with industry, the local community and our state and federal counterparts.”


For more information about red imported fire ants, visit the NSW DPI website.

Residents and businesses in northern NSW should report any sign of fire ants to:

  • NSW DPI 1800 680 244 or www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/biosecurity/forms/report-exotic-ants

Media contact: Alastair Walton | Minister Moriarty 0418 251 229