The latest information on where fire ants are found in Australia and New Zealand…
With the red imported fire ant incursion in southeast Queensland expanding into northern NSW, we’ve pulled his information page together to provide the latest information on where fire ants are found in Australia and New Zealand.
When most people talk about fire ants, they are referring to the red important fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), yet there are two other species of invasive fire ant – the tropical fire ant or ginger ant (Solenopsis geminata) and the electric ant or little fire ant or (Wasmannia auropunctata), both of which have also invaded Australia.
Although some states and regions declare themselves “fire ant free”, it is also true that there are many semi-rural and uninhabited areas in which fire ants could thrive for a significant amount of time before being detected. As such, is it important for pest managers and the general public to be aware of where fire ants are currently found and what fire ants look like, so potential new incursions can be spotted.
Although a map is commonly used to show that greater than 99% of the mainland states of Australia are vulnerable to fire ant infestation, it is important to remember fire ants are a tropical and sub-tropical species, requiring warmer temperatures and annual rainfall to thrive. Areas with less than 510 mm annual rainfall a year, or with minimum temperatures below 3.6oC or maximum temperatures about 40oC for any length of time, are not likely to be favourable for red imported fire ant survival. Although this may eliminate the drier, colder and hotter parts of Australia, it does still mean a significant portion of Australia is vulnerable to fire ant invasion, particularly the tropical north, coastal areas around the country and some key agricultural areas, which means fire ants could have a significant impact on our way of life and economy.
There are two types of detection: quarantine detection and incursion. Quarantine detection is when fire ants are detected at a port of entry during the quarantine process and subsequently destroyed. This is how biosecurity is meant to work, with the number and source of the quarantine detections providing useful management information. Incursions are when the ants are detected beyond a port of entry and a containment area needs to be established and eradication attempted. Incursions are far more serious.
Red imported fire ant: The first incursions in Queensland were detected at the Port of Brisbane and in western Brisbane in 2001. Over the following decade, several detections were picked up in quarantine in Brisbane and eliminated, but another incursion was detected in Gladstone in 2006. This incursion was declared eliminated in 2010 and the original 2001 Port of Brisbane eradication was declared eradicated in 2012. However, the incursion in western Brisbane remained. Appendix 1 of the 2023-2027 Eradication Plan lists the red imported fire ant incursions and eradication efforts in Queensland and Australia-wide from 2001 to 2021.
Another Gladstone incursion was detected in 2013 and declared eliminated in 2016. In 2015 and 2016 further incursions were found at Brisbane Airport and Port of Brisbane respectively, which were declared eradicated in 2019. However, the incursion to the west of Brisbane continued to spread west into the Lockyer Valley and south to the Gold Coast. Although a containment zone is in place around the infestation and is still a target for eradication, the treatment area continues to spread and fire ants have now been found in northern New South Wales.
Tropical fire ant: Detected in western Brisbane in 2002 and successfully treated. Assumed to have been eradicated.
Electric ant: The original incursion was found in Cairns, but has spread into a number of other areas in tropical Queensland. Although an active eradication program is underway, the electric ant seems to be fairly well established. Eradication would appear unlikely.
New South Wales (NSW)
Red imported fire ant: An incursion was detected at Port Botany in 2014, which was declared eradicated in 2016. Recent incursions have been detected in northern NSW, in November 2023 in Murwillumbah and in January 2024 in Wardell. Eradication efforts are underway.
There have been no detections of the tropical fire ant or electric ant.
A quarantine detection of red imported fire ants was picked up and eradicated in Melbourne in 2015. No other fire ant detections have occurred.
South Australia (SA)
A quarantine detection of red imported fire ants was picked up and eradicated in Adelaide in 2017. No other fire ant detections have occurred.
Western Australia (WA)
Red imported fire ant: A red imported fire ant infestation was reported at the Fremantle Ports in November 2019. After a two-year eradication program, followed by a further two years of monitoring, the incursion was declared as eliminated and Western Australia was declared fire ant free in October 2023.
Tropical fire ant: Considered established in the Kimberley region, although the full extent is unknown.
Electric ant: Not present.
No fire ant species are present in Tasmania. Tasmania is probably considered borderline suitable due to the temperature. As an island, it should be possible to minimise any incursions.
However, just to highlight the potential threat of fire ants in Tasmania, a single red imported fire ant worker was found in a package from Queensland in January 2024 (detected by Australia Post workers in Tasmania).
Northern Territory (NT)
The tropical fire ant has established populations in several parts of the NT, including Christmas Island. The full extent of the infestation is unknown and as no ongoing treatment is occurring, it must be assumed that the ant is established.
There have been no recorded detections of the red imported fire ant or electric ant in the NT.
ACT and Canberra
There have been no detections of fire ants in the ACT.
An incursion of red imported fire ant was detected in Napier in 2006 and was declared eliminated in 2009. Two quarantine detections and eliminations took place in 2001 (Auckland Airport) and 2004 (Port of Napier).
Tropical fire ant workers are regularly intercepted at quarantine, although there has only been one incursion at Mount Maunganui in 2003, which was successfully eradicated.
More information on red imported fire ants.
Ant images under license from Alex Wild.