Red imported fire ants

(Solenopsis invicta)

Red imported fire ants (fire ants) are invasive exotic ants that cause serious social, economic, and environmental harm. They are aggressive and have a severe, burning sting. Fire ants are not known to occur in New South Wales, but currently infest a large area of South East Queensland with nests found very close to the border.


Communities in the border regions of Northern NSW should be on the lookout for fire ants and their nests and contact NSW DPI if suspected fire ants are found.

Anyone bringing hay, turf, soil, mulch, potted plants or machinery into NSW from Queensland should check their biosecurity duties here.


How do fire ants affect us?

  • Large numbers of ants will swarm onto a person or animal stinging over and over, causing the sensation of being on fire.
  • Stings can become infected and in rare cases lead to fatal allergic reactions.
  • Infestations restrict the use of backyards, parks, playgrounds, beaches and sports fields and damage electrical, irrigation and agricultural equipment
  • Fire ants feed on seeds, insects, spiders, lizards, frogs, birds and mammals. They can displace or kill off native plants and animals and change whole ecosystems beyond repair.
  • Their presence limits the ability to export goods to states or countries free of red imported fire ants.

Image showing bite

Left: Stings from fire ants are very painful and form pustules. Right: Fire ant size comparison. Photos sourced from Queensland DAFF

Fire ants in South East Queensland

Fire ants were first discovered at the Port of Brisbane in 2001 and currently infest around 600,000 ha in South East Queensland. This large, infested area is managed within two biosecurity zones. The interactive fire ants map shows sites within the biosecurity zones that have had fire ants in the last 12 months. They have been found west to Mt Sylvia and the Lockyer Valley and north to Deception Bay.

NSW partners with and contributes funding to the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program. This program aims to eradicate fire ants from South East Queensland by 2032 and has been in place since 2017. Modelling shows that without it, fire ants would have spread west to Longreach, north to Bowen and south to Canberra by now.

The program provides a website for residents and tenants, business and industry and school and sports groups on the control treatments for fire ants, the dangers they present, and how to look for them and stop their spread.

Fire ants are a high risk to NSW

Fire ants have been found within 30 km of the NSW border at Tarome, Charlwood, Boonah, Coulson, Wyaralong, Scenic Rim, Canungra and Tambourine Mountain. The closeness of the South East Queensland infestation makes fire ants one of the highest biosecurity risks to NSW.

Red imported fire ant image

What to look for

Ants

  • 2–6 mm long, found in a variety of sizes within one nest
  • Dark reddish-brown in colour
  • Darker brown-black abdomen
  • Waist section has two segments
  • Aggressive behaviour - hundreds of ants will come out of a nest if disturbed, trying to sting over and over

For more information visit the interactive Guide to Identifying Exotic Invasive Ants

Red imported fire ant image

Image showing colour and size of fire ant. Image courtesy of Peter Green.

Nests

  • Mounds or flattish patches of soil with no obvious entrance holes
  • Can be up to 40 cm high
  • More likely to be seen in sunny open areas such as lawns, school yards, parks, roadsides and golf courses
  • Occasionally found in rotten logs, along pavers and building walls.

Fire ant mound

Fire ant mound. NSW DPI © State of New South Wales

How do fire ants spread?

  • Fire ants can fly up to 2 km, form rafts to float on water, and travel over or under the ground.
  • They can be moved long distances in carrier materials such as hay, turf, organic mulch and manure, soil, potted plants and agricultural equipment and machinery.

Where are we likely to find fire ants in NSW?

Fire ants are most likely to be found in parts of NSW along the border with South East Queensland including the Tweed, Kyogle and Tenterfield local government areas.

Their ability to be moved in carrier materials such as hay, turf, mulch, soil, potted plants and on agricultural equipment and machinery means fire ants could be found anywhere in NSW. Check for fire ants on these carrier materials if they have come into NSW from South East Queensland.

They could also be found close to ports if they enter NSW in shipping containers or cargo. Fire ants can adapt and survive in most climates and environments around the world. Check open areas such as lawns and pastures, roadsides and cropped land. Look under and next to objects on the ground like timber, logs, rocks, pavers or bricks.

What should I do if I suspect fire ants?

Don’t touch the ants or their nest with any part of your body as there is a high chance of being severely stung. Don’t disturb or treat the infestation yourself as this can cause the ants to move and spread, or swarm and sting.

If it’s safe to do so taking photos will help with identification. If you can only see a nest, gently poke the edge of the nest with a long stick to encourage the ants to come out, making sure you don’t get too close.

Keep your camera still and allow ants to walk past the lens. Moving the camera too much makes the image blurry. Use the zoom on your camera to get a close-up image while keeping a safe distance. Put an object like a coin or a key near the ants as a size comparison.

Attach the photos in the online form or call 1800 680 244 for assistance

What will happen if fire ants are found on my property in NSW?

  • DPI will work with the National Fire Ants Eradication Program to search the surrounding areas, treat the ants and stop their spread, at no cost to the owners or occupiers.
  • A temporary requirement to only move certain materials and items off the property under permitted conditions could be put in place while the ants are controlled.
  • The ants would be treated and monitored until it was clear they had been eradicated.

What should I do if I get stung?

The following guidance is general information and if in doubt, seek medical advice.

If you are stung by fire ants, small blisters may form on your skin. Leave the blisters intact, wash with soap and water and apply a cold compress or ice to relieve the swelling and pain.

Stings are rarely life threatening. People prone to allergic reactions could experience severe symptoms and should seek immediate medical attention.

Biosecurity duties and fire ant movement controls in NSW

Fire ants are regulated as prohibited matter under the NSW Biosecurity Act 2015. Their possible movement and spread in hay or straw bales, turf, agricultural and earth moving equipment, organic mulch including manure, soil and potted plants is regulated under the NSW Biosecurity Regulation 2017 and the Biosecurity Order (Permitted Activities) 2019. Certification of compliance with the regulations is available to commercial enterprises under a range of market access policies and certification assurance schemes.

NOTE: Queensland also has rules that apply to people and businesses moving materials that can carry fire ants.

Fodder, machinery rolled hay baling, Maitland NSW

NSW DPI © State of New South Wales

Conditions apply to anyone moving these materials and products into NSW from or through the fire ant biosecurity zones in Queensland:

Hay or straw bales

To move hay into NSW from or through the fire ant biosecurity zones in Queensland it must be accompanied by a Plant Health Certificate that certifies it has been:

  • treated with a chemical approved for the control of fire ants
  • handled and stored in a way that prevents infestation by fire ants immediately after treatment and until it arrives in NSW
  • inspected and found to be dry and free of all soil.

Treating hay with an approved chemical

The Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) Permit Number PER84694 (expiry 30 November 2022) allows hay intended for livestock consumption to be fumigated with methyl bromide (individual bales or single layers of bales for a minimum of 24 hours).

WARNING – ALWAYS READ THE LABEL Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. See Pesticides for more information.

Turf

To move turf into NSW from or through the fire ant biosecurity zones in Queensland it must be accompanied by a Plant Health Certificate that certifies it has been:

  • treated with a chemical approved for the control of fire ants
  • handled and stored in a way that prevents infestation by fire ants immediately after harvesting and until it arrives in NSW
  • inspected and found to be free of fire ants within 48 hours before dispatch.

Treating turf with an approved chemical

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) Permit number PER14317 (expiry 29th February 2024), allows the use of bifenthrin for control of red imported fire ants (RIFA) in commercial turf farms.

WARNING – ALWAYS READ THE LABEL Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. See Pesticides for more information.

Agricultural and earth moving equipment

To move agricultural and earth moving equipment into NSW from or through the fire ant biosecurity zones in Queensland it must be accompanied by a Plant Health Certificate that certifies it has been:

  • inspected and found to be free from fire ants, soil and other materials such as hay, straw, turf or mulch 48 hours prior to dispatch.

Organic mulch including manure

To move organic mulch including manure into NSW from or through the fire ant biosecurity zones in Queensland it must be:

  • heat treated so that all parts of the mass have reached a minimum temperature of 65.5 degrees Celsius
  • handled and stored in a way that prevents infestation by fire ants immediately after treatment and until it arrives in NSW.

It must be accompanied by one of the following certifying these requirements have been met:

Soil

To move soil into NSW from or through the fire ant biosecurity zones in Queensland it must be:

  • heat treated so that all parts of the mass have reached a minimum temperature of 65.5 degrees Celsius
  • handled and stored in a way that prevents infestation by fire ants immediately after treatment and until it arrives in NSW.

It must be accompanied by one of the following certifying these requirements have been met:

Potted plants

To move potted plants (plants in containers grown in potting media including the plant, the container and the potting media) into NSW from or through the fire ant biosecurity zones in Queensland they must be:

  • treated with a chemical approved for the control of fire ants before dispatch
  • handled and stored in a way that prevents infestation by fire ants immediately after treatment and until it arrives in NSW.

They must be accompanied by one of the following certifying these requirements have been met:

  • a Plant Health Certificate
  • a Plant Health Assurance Certificate that certifies they have been produced and dealt with in accordance with the Interstate Certification Assurance Scheme ICA-39 Treatment of Bulk Growing Media and Potted Plants for Red Imported Fire Ants [https://interstatequarantine.org.au/ica-results/?ica_number=39]
  • Biosecurity Certificate that certifies they have been produced and dealt with in accordance with BioSecure HACCP Entry Conditions Compliance Procedure Number ECCPRIFA03.

Residents moving potted plants across the border into NSW from or through the fire ant biosecurity zones must also comply with the requirements. Residents can apply for a Plant Health Certificate.

Handling and storing materials in a way that prevents infestation by fire ants

Materials must be covered to prevent flying fire ant queens from settling in them. Materials must be stored either off the ground or on a fire ant resistant surface with a chemically treated perimeter to prevent fire ant queens from crawling into the material.

Appropriate cover

Examples of appropriate cover include:

  • tarpaulins
  • sheds with overhead roofing (for hay including mulch hay sheds must also have side walls or covered sides)
  • overhead shade cloth (for hay including mulch hay, the materials must be completely covered)
  • plastic stretch wrapping (for silage hay).

Appropriate off-ground storage

Materials can be stored off the ground at a height that prevents ‘bridges’ created by falling materials. Examples of off-ground storage include:

  • trailers
  • benches.

Pallets are not high enough to be considered off the ground. Materials can fall through the gaps and form a bridge allowing fire ants to crawl in.

If materials are stored off the ground, chemical surface or perimeter treatments are not required.

Appropriate on-ground storage

On-ground storage requires both a fire ant resistant surface and a chemically treated perimeter.

Fire ant resistant surfaces

Examples of fire ant resistant surfaces include:

  • concrete or bitumen with no cracks
  • a barrier that fire ants cannot penetrate such as 200-micron unperforated continuous plastic sheeting
  • compacted ground (other than sand) that has been treated with an appropriate chemical product before materials are stored. If storing hay intended for animal feed, a barrier such as a rubber mat or plastic sheet should be used to avoid contaminating the hay with the chemical surface treatment.

Chemical perimeter and surface treatment

A chemically treated perimeter means a boundary of 30 cm in width that has received a chemical treatment. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) Permit number PER14317 (expiry 29th February 2024) allows the use of bifenthrin for the protection of storage areas (including chemical perimeters and surface treatments).

WARNING – ALWAYS READ THE LABEL Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. See Pesticides for more information.

Take care not to degrade a chemical perimeter or surface treatment through movements of traffic or equipment.

Types of biosecurity certification

The certificates accepted for different materials are summarised in the table below:

HayTurfSoilOrganic mulchPotted plantsAgricultural and earthmoving equipment

Plant Health Certificate

Checkmark

Checkmark

Checkmark

Checkmark

Checkmark

Checkmark

Plant Health Assurance Certificate under ICA-39

    

Checkmark

 

HACCP Biosecurity Certificate under ECCPRIFA03

    

Checkmark

 

HACCP Biosecurity Certificate under ECCPRIFA21

  

Checkmark

Checkmark

 

The certificates are provided by state government and industry certifiers:

Obtaining a Plant Health Certificate

Plant Health Certificates are issued by inspectors from the Queensland Government to applicants wanting to move fire ant materials into NSW from Queensland.

Obtaining a Plant Health Assurance Certificate under the Industry Certification Assurance Scheme (ICA-39)

A person, who may represent a business, can become accredited as a biosecurity certifier under the national Interstate Certification Assurance (ICA) Scheme allowing them to issue plant health assurance certificates for produce.

Obtaining a Biosecurity Certificate under the BioSecure Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) industry certification scheme

A person, who may represent a business, can become accredited as a biosecurity certifier for the Biosecure HACCP scheme allowing them to legally self-certify consignments for compliance with interstate movement controls.

To make sure you have all the information you need about movement controls and regulations, visit Market access on the NSW DPI website.

For further information call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline on 1800 680 244