[ASC-media] Crazy ants invade northern Australia

Barbara.McKaige at csiro.au Barbara.McKaige at csiro.au
Fri Feb 28 10:09:57 EST 2003

Joint Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation, Northern Land Council
and CSIRO media release

FEBRUARY 28, 2003

Northern Australia has been invaded by one of the world's worst species of
ant, which could affect human health and damage the environment,
agriculture, and the economy.

 "This little Yellow Crazy ant will destroy our culture, our land, our
life," says Balupalu Yunupingu, Dhimurru senior ranger, north-east Arnhem
The Yellow Crazy ant is recognised by the Global Invasive Species Programme
as one of the world's worst invaders, and represents a major environmental
and economic threat to northern Australia.

CSIRO research fellow, Dr Ben Hoffmann, says Yellow Crazy ants form
multi-queened 'super-colonies' in which ants occur at extremely high
densities over large areas.

"The density of foraging worker ants in super-colonies is amazing, reaching
around 1000 per square metre or 79 million per hectare of bush," he says.
Dr Hoffmann says the ants are a threat to human health as their acid spray
can send people blind. 
"When the ants are swarming people get acid on their hands and can
accidentally rub it into their eyes. This is particularly a concern for
infants", he said.

Dr Hoffmann says the ants are a major environmental threat as they totally
displace native animals from infested areas, and seriously disrupt
ecological processes. 
"They are also a serious pest of agriculture as they cause outbreaks of
sap-sucking insects which harm plants," he says. 
The Yellow Crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) is believed to have come from
India and was accidentally introduced by people to Australia probably about
60 to 70 years ago. 

Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation Senior Cultural Adviser,
Nanikiya Munungurritj, says the ant has been found around human settlements,
along creeks and in shaded areas on the Gove peninsula in eastern Arnhem
"Yellow Crazy ants need help from people to move across country. If the ants
had found their way into densely populated areas instead of this remote area
they would have already spread right across the country", he says. 
"People should be aware of Crazy ants. We need to track their locations and
treat them before they get out of hand".
Yellow Crazy ants are also a serious pest in homes. The ants nest in all
kinds of materials, from potting mix to packaging, making it very easy for
them to be accidentally transported by people.

Northern Land Council project officer Mark Ashley says the threat of Yellow
Crazy ants should not be underestimated. 
"These ants have the capacity to spread from Broome in Western Australia
across to Queensland", he says.
"We have an opportunity now to do something about them while their
distribution is limited. It will cost money but if we act quickly it will be
far more cost efficient than if we wait 10 years."

On Christmas Island, Yellow Crazy ants have completely eliminated the
Island's famous red land crabs in areas where super-colonies exist. An
estimated 15-20 million red crabs have been killed since crazy ant
super-colonies were first reported in 1989, a decline of 30 per cent of the
crab population.  This had led to major changes in the island's rainforest
ecosystem, and is threatening a range of rare and endangered species on the
Mr Munungurritj says the Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation,
the Northern Land Council and CSIRO have developed a proposal for a control
"We want to keep the country as it is. The way it was always long before
these Crazy ants came. So we would like to eradicate them as soon as
possible - on the spot", he says.
Mr Munungurritj, Mr Ashley and Dr Hoffmann will be presenting a joint
seminar on Yellow Crazy ants in northern Australia at CSIRO today (Friday)
in Darwin. 

Further information:
Nanikiya Munungurritj - Dhimurru ph. 042 9095 396
Dr Ben Hoffmann - CSIRO ph. 08 8944 8432 mobile  0418 820 718

Media assistance:
Barbara McKaige - CSIRO Darwin  ph. 08 8944 8411
David Moodie - Northern Land Council ph. 08 89205114  mobile 0417 803 425

Barbara McKaige
Communication Coordinator
CSIRO Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre
Darwin NT
ph:  08 8944 8411
fax: 08 8944 8444

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