Sausage baits and sniffer dogs are proving a formidable duo when it comes to identifying and controlling the little fire ant in Australia. 


Most pest managers are aware of termite detection dogs, but with the ability to train dogs to indicate on a wide range of odours, it’s perhaps not surprising that they are also being used in the detection of invasive ants. They have demonstrated their use in the red important fire ant program in south east Queensland for a number of years, but it’s in the detection of the tiny electric ant (Wasmannia punctata, pictured above), where they really come into their own.

The electric or little fire ant, which is native to Central and South America, was first detected in north Queensland (Cairns) in 2006. The ants are very small, around 1.5 mm long, and a golden brown colour. They are slow moving and form distinct foraging lines. They are happy to form nests in any natural or man-made hole or crevice and will readily move nest. Due to their small size they can erect their nests in very small spaces – inside a macadamia nut case for example – which makes them difficult to detect.

Their status as one of the most serious invasive ant pests is due to their painful sting and their broad diet. When established in an area, they prey on and displace other insects and animals, large and small. Their stings can impact domestic pets and livestock, and in agricultural areas, they can make the harvesting of fruit virtually impossible.

Due to their small size and nest mobility, detection is the challenge in managing the eradication program. When the ants are reported in a particular area, confirming their presence and determining the limits of the infested area are key. The team at the National Electric Ant Eradication Program (NEAEP), use slices of sausage – Don Skinless Footy Franks to be specific – to confirm and locate infestations. These monitoring baits are placed at increasing distances from the site of the initial infestation to determine the perimeter of the infested areas. The team then treat the infested area with propriety baits manufactured by Sumitomo, applying at least three treatments over the treatment period, with treatments continuing until elimination is suspected.

Once eradication has been assumed it needs to be confirmed and the sausage detection method just isn’t reliable for low densities of ants. This is when the ant detection dogs come in. These labradors are reportedly capable of detecting a single ant. The dogs are sent into the treated areas once eradication has been assumed.

If they make three visits to the treatment area and cannot detect electric ants, the surveillance team will do one more round of sausage baiting. If still no ants are detected, the area is declared free of electric ants. The electric fire ant incursion has largely been eliminated and according to Dr Lori Lach, Associate Professor at James Cook University, the electric fire ant problem had been reduced to a few isolated populations. With the recent announcements extending funding for a further three years, complete elimination is on the cards.

Information on red imported fire ant.

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