GO SEARCHING: Winged fire ants taking off before their mating flight.
GO SEARCHING: Winged fire ants taking off before their mating flight.

Landowners urged to search for fire ants after rain

THE RECENT heavy rain isn’t just great news for farmers, it’s also good for land owners trying to get rid of fire ants from their backyards, paddocks and agricultural land.

The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Science Leader Dr Ross Wylie said the recent wet weather meant the community may see fire ant nests much more clearly, as the ants build their nests higher in the wet.

“This is because this ‘super pest’ thrives in these sorts of conditions, especially when combined with the high levels of humidity we’ve been experiencing,” said Dr Wylie.

“We urge the community to check their land now for fire ants and report any sightings to the program.

“We particularly need to hear from land owners in the western part of the South East Queensland fire ant infestation in the Lockyer Valley and surrounding areas where we’ve spent over two years treating the ‘super pest’.

The recent rainfall can help provide further evidence the eradication treatment is working.

Fire ant treatment schedules can also be affected by weather, and Dr Wylie recommended people don’t self-manage immediately before or after wet weather events.

“One of the main reasons that fire ants are such a problem is that some of them have the ability to fly and can quickly establish new colonies some distance away from the mother colony,” he said.

“When the conditions are right, like they are now, hundreds of fire ant young queens take to the air to mate — flying between two and five kilometres,” he said.

“While many of the queens become prey to insects like dragonflies and birds, a significant number survive to form new colonies.

“The flights can occur anytime, but are more likely to occur in the warmer months of summer during periods of high humidity following rainfall, after weeks of dry weather.”

Dr Wylie said the program used the research done into the flight range and behaviour of young fire ant queens to help plan the program’s eradication strategy.

“Fire ants are also known to spread during flood-like conditions — a survival technique having evolved on the flood plains of major South American river systems,” he said.

“They have the ability to survive flood waters by linking their bodies together to form rafts.

“They can float for weeks until they come to dry land or a place where they can start a nest again.”

Dr Wylie said after wet weather events the program expects increased fire ant reports and thanks the community for their patience as it works its way through responding to these reports.

“Recent changes to the treatment has ensured the program can more quickly meet these increases,” he said.

“Alternatively, people can opt to self-manage — engaging a pest manager or purchasing fire ant bait from a local retailer and treating their property themselves.”

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