There is no single solution for the control of problematic ants. Early identification will improve the ability to control ants and can help prevent invasive ant species from gaining a foothold in Western Australia.
Public participation is crucial in protecting Western Australia's agricultural industry, biodiverse environment and our outdoor lifestyle. West Australian residents are encouraged to report suspected exotic species or any problematic ants to the Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS). Instructions for reporting suspected exotic species of ants to PaDIS are found below. Once an ant species is identified by PaDIS, advice on treatments and control will be provided. Ant identification will help prevent the establishment, or at least help contain the spread of pest ants, including the devastating 'tramp' ant species found in other parts of Australia and the world.
Threat to West Australian agriculture and horticulture
Argentine ants, electric ants and the red imported fire ant are examples of tramp ants that destroy and replace Australian native species of ants and other insects, disrupting or destroying the natural ecological balance. Their aggressive biting, stinging or other attacking behaviour can hurt people and animals, even causing lethal anaphylactic shock in some people. The agressive nature of tramp ants impacts on our outdoor lifestyle, cultural activities and ecology. The red imported fire ant causes US$1.2 billion annually in damage in the state of Texas alone. The Queensland Government predicts southeast Queensland would face a cost of about $43 billion over 30 years if fire ants are left uncontrolled.
DAFWA works with primary industries to safeguard our agricultural resources from biological threats such as tramp ants and to maintain our export opportunities. The red imported fire ant, poses a serious threat to crops, animals, agricultural machinery, irrigation and electrical equipment. They kill poultry, lizards, snakes and ground-nesting birds (Vinson, 1994). Agricultural workers can be seriously injured from multiple stings (lethal in some cases). Farm animals can be blinded by stings to the eyes, or suffocated by swelling after stings to the nostrils. Tramp ants are a significant horticultural pest because they 'farm' or promote populations of aphids, mealy bugs and scale to their own advantage. Tramp ants eat fruit and seed, destroy seedlings and reduce plant pollination by eating butterfly eggs and larvae. They also attack bee hives.
Tramp ants in Western Australia
Tramp ants are a diverse group of invasive ant species which have become established widely across the globe by 'hitchhiking' in household goods, plant pots, garbage, sea containers, and machinery.
The Argentine ant and coastal brown ant (big-headed ant) are tramp ants which are already established in WA as serious urban pests. Others threaten the WA borders from interstate and overseas with potential introductions via our ports of entry (air and sea). The public can prevent the spread of ants by ensuring plant pots sourced from nurseries and friends are free from ants. The species of tramp ants currently of greatest concern for Australia are outlined in the table below (see Table 1).
Members of the public who suspect the presence of any tramp ant species should contact PaDIS on (08) 9368 3080 or email email@example.com. Table 1 lists invasive ant species, those that have not established in WA are reportable declared pests. The Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 and subsidiary legislation, outlines the duty of all in Western Australia to report declared pests, the reporting requirements and the prescribed control measures.