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Australian authorities are stepping up resources to combat an incursion of red imported fire ant (RIFA). 

On 5 December, NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, confirmed response efforts at Port Botany had commenced following a detection of highly aggressive and invasive red imported fire ants at a port facility.

Ms Hodgkinson said three elite odour detection dogs had been brought down from Queensland to assist with eradication efforts.

“Baiting of the exotic pest is now well underway on the quarantined site and will be followed by pesticide treatment in coming days,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

“While this outbreak – the first in NSW – is serious, we have an experienced team of highly trained staff working to ensure eradication is successful.

“A team of emergency response experts, including regulatory officers, biosecurity officers and entomologists are at the site looking for nests, setting traps and commencing eradication.

“The National Fire Ant Program is assisting the NSW response and has also provided three of their elite odour detection dogs from Queensland that have been trained specifically to sniff out the red imported fire ant.

“Genetic testing undertaken by Queensland DAFF has confirmed the ant is indeed the red imported fire ant, and is not related to any of the incursions in Queensland.

“DNA testing has confirmed that the ants originated in Argentina and further investigations into how the pest travelled to NSW are being conducted.

“Red imported fire ant has not been detected previously in NSW and investigations are underway to determine their origin and how long the ants may have been here.”

Ms Hodgkinson said the detection site has been quarantined and the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is working closely with port operators, who are cooperating fully with authorities.

Red imported fire ants are reddish brown and from 2-6mm in length (photo credit: NSW Department of Primary Industries)

“While the detection currently appears to be localised to the area, we are conducting extensive surveillance in a much larger area to make sure the pests haven’t spread,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

“Red imported fire ants are a nasty pest; able to inflict painful stings on people, pets and livestock, and eradication efforts in Queensland have already cost $281 million since 2001.

“We’ve engaged an expert team from the National Program in Queensland, who are currently dealing with this pest in Yarwun (Gladstone) and in South-East Queensland.”

Red imported fire ants pose a significant social, economic and environmental threat through attacking animals and invading food and water sources.

The fire ants are reddish-brown in colour and from 2-6mm in length. They may be confused with the common coastal brown ant but can be distinguished by its aggressive behaviour.

Suspected sighting of the ants can be reported to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.