How to Kill an Ant

This is strange, isn’t it? Regular readers will know just how much I love Australia’s wildlife, even those snakes, spiders, crocs and sharks that strike fear into many potential Australian migrants.

So now I’m going to talk about killing an ant?

Some critters certainly don’t deserve to live, very high on my list of those who must die include:

Each of the above has, in my view, a very good reason as to why they should not exist, the first two because of the number of deaths they cause and the third simply because it is ugly, dirty and entirely annoying without any redeeming benefits whatsoever.

When I was a small lad though, I would literally avoid stepping on an ant even though most of my friends thought treading on ants was great fun. My view was, what harm can they do? Let them live!

Not this ant though, he’s now fourth on my hit list, it is of course the…

Fire Ant

Fire AntsImage courtesy of Vishal R

This particular ant can do an awful lot of harm and at the moment here in Australia we are fighting to get rid of it. The name it is given here is Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) on account that it isn’t native to this country, it originally came from South America, probably Argentina.

I’ve written about these critters twice before, the first article was when I thought we had got rid of them and was called Tiny Itsy-Bitsy Small Australian Bad Things.

A couple of years later when I realised that we hadn’t got rid of them, I wrote Fire Ants in Australia: The Red Imported Threat is Back!

So why an update?

Last week as I was working in my home office, my concentration was interrupted by the sound of a helicopter buzzing around, back and forth, constantly.

Fire Ant Search 1

Buzzing back

Fire Ant Search 2

Buzzing forth

Must be a police helicopter looking for Mr Badguy.” I thought.

Well, it wasn’t a police helicopter; it belonged to Biosecurity Queensland who were looking for lots of little bad guys in the form of these red fire ants.

Aerial surveying for fire ants

Fire Ant Search 4The suburb I live in has been designated a “low risk” area for fire ants. That might sound good, but it isn’t really. There’s only “high-risk” and “low risk”; if you are in neither group then you are apparently at no risk at all.

So, as a “low risk” area, my suburb needed to be checked for fire ants.

Killing ants goes high-tech

In the old days we may (or may not, as I’ve already explained) have killed ants simply by treading on them, but that’s not going to get rid of the fire ant. When fire ants were successfully eradicated from Yarwun near Gladstone, Queensland in 2010, it was the first time anywhere in the world that these pests had been totally eradicated from an area.

The first ever infestation of fire ants in Queensland was discovered at the Port of Brisbane in 2001, tests are currently looking to confirm their successful eradication from that area as well.

It’s an ongoing battle, but one Australia is hoping to win. $270 million spent so far and almost $17 million budgeted for these operations during the last financial year.

But what do these helicopters do?

According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) website

A unique infrared and thermal camera system is mounted to a helicopter that can pinpoint fire ant nests while the chopper is in flight over large areas. This is a world-first in fire ant detection technology.

It gets better…

Fire ant remote sensing captures multi-spectrum image data using sensors mounted under a helicopter. These sensors detect reflected energy in three distinct frequency bands: visible, near-infrared and thermal. Fire ant mounds reveal a distinct ‘signature’ in the imagery we capture due to their thermal (heat) characteristics and the way they reflect near-infrared energy.

The three layers of sensor data are downloaded each day and analysed by a sophisticated ground-based computer system ‘trained’ to recognise a fire ant mound’s ‘signature’ using an algorithm specially developed for Queensland conditions.

Having located the nest, it’s then a case of destroying them with a low toxic bait treatment. Yes, it’s a long way from treading on an ant.

The government is hopeful of complete eradication by 2015; let’s hope they reach their target. Life in Australia is all about the great outdoors, and outdoors wouldn’t be so great if we had to share it with fire ants.

In the US, people who live in fire ant infested areas no longer go out for picnics, sit on the grass, walk bare feet or even stand in one spot for too long for fear of being attacked by fire ants.

And when these things do attack, they attack in numbers, so multiple stings can quickly cover your body. It will literally feel as though you are on fire. Fire ants can attack spiders, lizards, frogs, birds and mammals ultimately destroying our ecosystem along the way.

The sooner we are shot of these pests, the better.

Dob in a fire ant

Those living in areas at risk are asked to contact the relevant department, depending on which state they live in, if they see a fire ant nest to report it. Unfortunately, these nests are not easy to find.

I’ve had a quick look around my garden; all I found was a strange looking green stripey spider…

green stripey spiderAnd some African black beetle larva..

African black beetle larvaBut no red fire ants. Hopefully those helicopters will do a better job than I can.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Leisa March 16, 2016, 7:18 pm |

    I have a fire ants nest in my back yard! I want to get rid of it help

    Byron Bayou

    • BobinOz March 17, 2016, 12:45 am |

      You need to get rid of them fast! If you call your local council I’m pretty sure they will come out and deal with it. Are you in Brisbane? I know for sure that Brisbane Council will definitely send a team out to get rid of them, I’m pretty sure that any council in any state would do the same.

      It’s not your fault they are there, and these things are a major pest that Australia wants rid of. Just pick up the phone and I bet they’ll come round superfast.

      If you get the time, please do let us know what happens.

  • Becci September 18, 2013, 8:33 am |

    Jeez give me a red back any day ! Just read today a 12 yr old boy died in Texas this week from been bitten by these 🙁

    • BobinOz September 18, 2013, 4:05 pm |

      I’ve just googled it, how tragic. Poor lad had a severe allergic reaction after being bitten whilst warming up at half time for a football game. Proof, if it were needed, as to exactly why we need to eradicate these pests from Australian soil.

      Thanks Becci, Bob

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