Impacts of fire ants

Fire ants are a significant pest because they have the potential to cause major social, environmental and economic impacts in Queensland.

Social impacts

Fire ants are a social menace because of their sting. Encounters with fire ants usually involve dozens of ants moving quickly and undetected. By the time they sting, there may be tens or hundreds of ants on your body, and they tend to all sting at once. Stings from fire ants can cause a painful, burning and itching sensation, which can last for an hour. Multiple stings give the sensation that the body is on fire.

Fire ants could seriously affect our outdoor lifestyle. In the United States, people in fire ant-infested areas have changed their habits to avoid exposure to the ant. For example, people do not have picnics on the lawn, go barefoot, sit or lie on the ground, or even stand for too long in one spot. Activities such as mowing and gardening could also result in ant stings.

The impact of fire ants is not restricted to people. Pets and domestic animals can also be stung and injured, and may have allergic reactions or be blinded by exposure to the venom.

Environmental impacts

Fire ants are very aggressive and voracious feeders on small ground fauna, including insects, spiders, lizards, frogs, birds and mammals. Consequently, fire ants may displace or eliminate some of Australia's unique native ground fauna. This was observed in some fire ant infested bushland in Brisbane's south-west in the early stages of the eradication program.

Fire ants could seriously affect the vegetation communities in natural areas. Their habit of eating or damaging seeds could alter the ratios of the various seeds available to develop, which could significantly change an ecosystem over time. Fire ants also predate or disturb the insects and animals that pollinate native plants, which may also cause long-term changes to the vegetation of our bushland areas.

Economic impacts

Mounds formed by fire ant nests can be a serious problem in lawns, sporting fields and golf courses, which could have economic impacts. The ants' activities and nesting materials can cause expensive damage to sensitive electrical equipment. They can also affect the tourism industry and the export trade of 'high-risk' materials with fire ant-free countries.

Fire ants can significantly affect the agriculture industry. Newborn or hatching animals are particularly prone to attacks that can lead to death. The ants can make it impossible for animals to reach food or water without being seriously stung, which can lead to starvation and dehydration.

Fire ants sometimes feed on seeds, and can fatally damage some plants by tunnelling through roots and stems. They protect some species of pest insects that produce 'honeydew'. This downgrades the quality of produce and helps spread some diseases.

Mound-building behaviour can interrupt or destroy equipment, such as irrigation systems, and can also damage machinery during harvesting operations.

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