An outbreak of highly invasive, and destructive red fire ants has been spotted just over three miles away from the New South Wales (NWS) border in Queensland, Australia.
The Invasive Species Council spokesperson, Reece Pianta has said: “If fire ants spread across Australia they will be worse than rabbits, cane tones, foxes, and feral cats combined.”
The NWS state is at “extreme risk” of being invaded, with a single queen ant’s flight now enough to spark an infestation.
An attack from a fire ant can instantly cause intense pain and itching. Ants use their venom to stun their prey and can sting multiple times. The wounds are often pus-filled blisters that can look like spots, but the stings also come in clusters.
Mr Pinta explained sports fields and beaches were being closed in Queensland because of the “extremely painful” sting inflicted by the ants.
He added: “Fire ants will devastate our native wildlife and cause billions of dollars in lost agricultural production every year.”
Australian news outlets report the discovery of the fire ant nest at Tallebudgera on Queenland’s Gold Coast has prompted further calls for fast-tracked funding.
Agricultural ministers agreed to bring forward up to $60m (£31m) that had been allocated to be spent next year which is the last of a pool of $400m (£209m) set aside for fire ant control in 2017.
The fund was meant to last until 2027, but the problem has already reached such a scale that the money will run out in mid-2024.
The ants, originally from South America, were imported to Australia in the late 90s in freight from the US but weren’t discovered until 2001.
Despite the Australian government investing millions in the eradication program, the ants have been found in at least 10 locations across the Gold Coast.
The federal agriculture minister, Murray Watt, said although “additional effort” would be needed to achieve targets to eliminate the pests, the spread had already been “significantly slowed” by control programs.