Red imported fire ant

Page last updated: Monday, 30 May 2022 - 12:22pm

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Frequently Asked Questions 

What is a red imported fire ant (RIFA)?

A red imported fire ant is a serious exotic pest that poses significant social, economic and environmental threats to Western Australia. It is native to South America and is known to be highly aggressive and invasive and can inflict painful stings on people, pets and livestock.

How did it get here?

Results from genetic testing indicate the ant detection in WA was most likely introduced from overseas and is not linked to the Queensland detections. It is possible they arrived on a shipping container or on earth moving machinery and equipment.

Where have they been found?

RIFA were detected during specific targeted surveillance by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) on two adjoining properties at Fremantle Ports. It appears that the detection is localised to the initial detection site. An established red imported fire ant nest was found on the site.

How do I tell if ants are red imported fire ant?

Red imported fire ants are small (2-8mm), reddish-brown in colour, with a darker abdomen. There can be many different sized ants in one nest. They are usually aggressive if disturbed and can inflict a painful, fiery sting. Fire ant nests often look like disturbed soil or a small mound of soil with no visible entry holes. Nests may be in open areas or under logs, rocks or garden materials. 

Where should I look?

Look around any areas of disturbed ground, pot plants, top soil, mulch, under landscaping materials such as logs or stones, in any untidy or overgrown areas, or near areas of permanent water (eg. dams, rivers or ponds).

Why are they a problem?

Fire ants are one of the world's worst invasive ant species. They pose a serious threat to our lifestyle, environment, economy and agriculture, as they can form supercolonies that spread rapidly, feeding on insects, small ground fauna and crops. They also extremely aggressive and cause painful stings, which in some cases may cause anaphylactic allergic reactions. You can read more on their impacts here.

Can I treat an infestation myself?

No. Do not disturb a suspected red imported fire ant nest, as they are often highly aggressive and may swarm if disturbed. If you suspect red imported fire ant contact DPIRD IMMEDIATELY.

What should I do if I get stung?

Refer here for first aid advice. Apply ice to relieve the swelling and pain. Gently wash the area with soap and water and leave any blisters intact. People who experience an allergic reaction after an insect sting should seek medical attention immediately.

What do I do if I suspect red imported fire ant?

LOOK AND REPORT! Report any unfamiliar ants immediately – even if unsure.

Do not disturb ants as they may aggressively defend the nest. Do not send in live ants. Take a photo if safe to do so. 

Contact the department via:

What has been done to control RIFA in WA?

All known RIFA infestations have now been treated with baiting and direct soil injection. Eradication efforts are being undertaken in conjunction with the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program.

How do RIFA spread?

RIFA can spread naturally through flight, and by assisted spread such as movement of infested materials. Fire ant nests can have a single queen or multiple queens. A new queen will lay up to 20 eggs initially. Eggs hatch in 7-10 days and become adults after 9-15 days. A queen can increase laying capacity up to 800 eggs per day after the initial hatching.

What can I do to help prevent the spread of fire ants?

Report suspected red imported fire ant immediately.