Biosecurity alert: Red Imported Fire Ant

Page last updated: Wednesday, 12 February 2020 - 4:27pm

Impact of RIFA

Health

  • Can inflict a painful and fiery sting, which in some people can cause an allergic reaction.
  • Fire ants usually move quickly, allowing large numbers to move onto humans before they are detected.
  • Stings from fire ants can cause a painful, burning, itching sensation, lasting up to 1 hour.
  • Multiple stings give sensation that body is on fire.
  • Small pustules may form at sting sites several hours after stinging and may become itchy.
  • Broken pustules may become infected.

Environmental

  • Can eventually form 'super colonies' with multiple queens and can spread rapidly.
  • Potential to inhabit most of Australia’s major coastal areas and extensive areas of tropical north.
  • Feed voraciously on small ground fauna, including insects, spiders, lizards, frogs, birds and mammals. Could displace or eliminate some native species.
  • Eat and damage seeds, possibly causing major ecosystem changes over time.

​Economic

  • Fire ant mounds can be serious problem in lawns, sporting fields and golf courses.
  • Damage sensitive electrical equipment.
  • Affect tourism industry and export of items to fire-ant-free countries.
  • Significantly affect agriculture industry. More than 50 agricultural and horticultural crops, as well as turf and nursery species, are affected by fire ants. All are grown in Australia, in areas that fire ants could inhabit.
  • Attack young animals, stinging around eyes, mouth and nose, leading to blindness and suffocation.
  • Prevent animals from reaching food or water without being seriously stung, leading to starvation and dehydration.
  • Can damage and kill some plants by tunnelling through roots and stems.
  • Protect some pest insect species that produce 'honeydew', downgrading quality of produce and helping to spread disease.
  • Feed on important biological control agents, interfering with integrated pest management practices.
  • Mounds can destroy equipment, such as irrigation systems, and damage machinery during harvesting operations.

Social

  • Restrict everyday activities such as picnics and sporting activities as backyards backyards, parks, school playgrounds and sports grounds are unusable.

RIFA safety and first aid advice

Always safety first if you come across an ant nest. Don’t stand on the nest or disturb it as ants may aggressively defend it. Only take photos if safe to do so.You should take the following steps if stung:

  • If the ants are still on you or your pet pick them off by hand. If you try and brush them off this will make them more aggressive, and if ants are sprayed with water, they may latch on with their jaws.
  • Apply a cold compress to alleviate swelling and pain.
  • Carefully wash the affected area with soap and water.
  • Immediately seek medical attention if you are allergic to insect stings or have symptoms of allergy.

Fire ant stings can take up to 10 days to heal. If the blisters or pustules break, there is a risk they can get infected. If pain persists or blisters get infected, see your doctor. Infected stings may require antibiotics.

Visit HealthyWA for more information.