Australia could have a A$45 billion ($33 billion) ant problem on its hands.
Red fire ants, whose bites can lead humans to experience “the sensation that the body is on fire,” have been detected outside a containment zone in Queensland’s Scenic Rim.
“Fire ants attack indiscriminately, potentially destroying the way of life for many Queenslanders and costing the state $45 billion over 30 years,” Queensland Farmers’ Federation president Stuart Armitage told the Guardian.
To date, the Australian government has put more than A$400 million into the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, which launched in 2001.
On its website, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries calls fire ants ”one of the world’s most invasive species,” warning that if they become widely established, the ants would “ruin our way of life, and have serious health and environmental impacts. Everyday activities, such as barbecues, picnics and sporting events may no longer be possible in high infestation areas.”
The department describes fire-ant encounters as usually involving “dozens of ants moving quickly and undetected. By the time they sting, a large number of ants could be on your body, all stinging at once. Stings from fire ants can cause a painful, burning itching sensation, which can last for up to an hour. Multiple stings give the sensation that the body is on fire.”
Environmentally, fire-ant invasions threaten other species in the area. Their nests can render lawns and sporting fields unusable, and even damage electrical equipment.