Ants: identification and control

Page last updated: Wednesday, 8 July 2020 - 3:05pm

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Early identification of important invasive and native problematic ants within Western Australia is critical to achieving successful control and preventing invasive ant species from gaining a foothold in Western Australia. 

Any suspected exotic ant species or problematic ants should be reported to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS).

Public participation is crucial in protecting Western Australia's agriculturalindustry, biodiverse environment and our outdoor lifestyle.

Reporting native problematic ants allows for early identification and improved control, due to ant treatment options being dependent on the ant species, and varying for homes, gardens and businesses. 

Additionally, identification and proper control of ants not usually found in Western Australia will help to contain and eradicate pest ants, such as the devastating 'tramp' ant species found in other parts of Australia and the world.

Instructions for reporting and sending specimens to the Department's Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS) are provided below. Once an ant species is identified by PaDIS, advice on treatments and control will be provided. 

Impact of ants on agriculture, horticulture, environment and lifestyle

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.

The aggressive nature of tramp ants impacts on our outdoor lifestyle, cultural activities and ecology. Their aggressive biting, stinging or other attacking behaviour can hurt people and animals, some species even causing lethal anaphylactic shock in some people.

The red imported fire ant poses a serious threat to crops, animals, agricultural machinery, irrigation and electrical equipment. It causes US$1.2 billion damage annually in the state of Texas alone. They kill poultry, lizards, snakes and ground-nesting birds (Vinson, 1994). The Queensland Government predicts southeast Queensland would face a cost of about $43 billion over 30 years if fire ants were 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. Agricultural workers can be seriously injured from multiple stings. 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 insects to their own advantage. Tramp ants eat fruit and seed, destroy seedlings and reduce plant pollination by eating or displacing pollinating insects. They also attack beehives.

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. The public can help prevent the spread of pest ants by ensuring plant pots sourced from nurseries and friends are free from ants. 

There are others such as red imported fire ant, browsing ant and electric ant that threaten WA from interstate and overseas, mainly via ports of entry (air and sea). Tramp ant species currently of greatest concern for Australia and WA are outlined in Table 1 below.

Members of the public who suspect the presence of any tramp ant species should contact PaDIS on (08) 9368 3080 or email padis@dpird.wa.gov.au. Ants listed in Table 1 that have not established in WA are declared pests and under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 must be reported.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080