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Fire ants must be eradicated, says Southern Cross entomologist

Various sizes of fire ants on 10 cent coin_credit National Fire Ant Eradication Program


18 March 2024

Empty playgrounds, decimated crops and human fatalities. Southern Cross University’s Professor Nigel Andrew fears this is Australia’s bleak future should the venomous red fire ant take hold.

The University’s respected entomologist gave evidence in person during the first day of the national Inquiry into Red Imported Fire Ants in Australia held in Brisbane on March 4.

“It was a privilege to be invited to speak to the Senate Inquiry into Red Imported Fire Ants,” said Professor Andrew.

“Hopefully, this inquiry will be a springboard to enable further resources to be given to eradicate them from Australia before they cause further damage to our environment, agriculture and lifestyle.”

Learn more about fire ants and why this introduced pest is so dangerous.

Fire ants eating crops_credit National Fire Ant Eradication Program
Fire ants eating crops (credit: National Fire Ant Eradication Program).

“We haven't seen an invasive species like fire ants come to Australia. We can't compare this to cane toads, varroa mite or rabbits. This is a species that needs to be removed.”

Nigel Andrew

Professor Andrew has backed calls for the establishment of a fire ant cooperative research centre (CRC) to better understand the pest in the Australian context in order to eliminate it.

“If we're looking at a 10 to 15 year method to eradicate fire ants, then you'd also want to have the research levels and funding to complement it. You don't want to have a research program going for just 12 months or three years. You actually want to have the ability to develop a research program that can run over the entire period that we're hoping to eradicate the fire ant.”

Most of what we know about the fire ant is based on overseas experience, Professor Andrew said in his evidence at the inquiry - another hurdle that a fire ant CRC can help overcome.

“What we're finding is that (the ant is) behaving differently (in Australia). They're actually really successful. Their biology is weird. They're developing and doing things that we wouldn't normally expect them to do,” Professor Andrew told the seven senators leading the inquiry.

“So we need to understand that, because you need to understand their biology and behaviour in the Australian environment to be able to control them. Again, we use chemical control, which is a broad-spectrum control, to suppress them, but to eradicate them you can't just rely on human involvement. You need to have that background biological knowledge and you need to have other organisms coming in and controlling them, independent of the human management systems.”

Nigel Andrew gives evidence at fire ant senate inquiry_2024 March 4_ABC News
Professor Nigel Andrew giving evidence at the fire ant senate inquiry (screenshot: ABC TV News).

Professor Andrew reiterated the urgency to “ramp up efforts now to completely stop these dangerous imported fire ants in their tracks in Australia.”

“We haven't seen an invasive species like fire ants come to Australia,” he said. “We can't compare this to cane toads, varroa mite or rabbits. This is a species that needs to be removed from Australia or else we will have major problems across all aspects of our lifestyles and environment …. including horticultural and agricultural industries.”

In wrapping up his evidence, Professor Andrew said: “The biggest issue for me is ignorance and apathy.

“We're finding individual pockets of fire ants down in NSW. They're the ants we're finding. The scary thing are the new nests we don't know about, and we don't have the money necessarily to find those until they’re well established.”

Go to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee webpage to view Professor Nigel Andrew’s written submission (number 57).


Media contact

Sharlene King, Media Office at Southern Cross University +61 429 661 349 or