Aussie town on alert after invasive pest with 'painful, venomous sting' found

Electric ants were recently found in Far North Queensland, with authorities now frantically trying to discover the source.

An invasive pest with a “painful, venomous sting” that can cause blindness has triggered an urgent plea after being discovered in an Aussie town.

Electric ants — also referred to as little fire ants — were recently found at the Yungaburra Waste Transfer Station in Far North Queensland, Biosecurity Queensland revealed on Thursday.

The suspect ants were collected by the Tablelands Regional Council during a routine check as part of the National Electric Ant Eradication Program. With efforts already underway to trace the source of the infestation, authorities are now asking locals for help.

(Left) tiny electric ants attacking a native green ant. (Right) a woman's allergic reaction to electric ant stings.
Electric ants attack wildlife and can inflict painful stings that blind animals. Source: Queensland Government

“The program is calling on residents and landowners to register for their free yard check, to see if we can uncover these invasive pests, and commence eradication work before there is further spread,” Biosecurity Queensland posted on Facebook.

“Electric ants inflict a painful, venomous sting, kill and displace our native wildlife, and can blind animals.”

Authorities said almost half of electric ant infestations are found during yard checks, which take one hour, and are free.

Some locals in responded to the request with shock, saying they had never heard of the pest. “Between the electric and the fire ants we are screwed,” one person wrote. “Oh great, something else that can kill me,” another added.

Left, Electric ants form a slow-moving trail on the side of a house. Right, an electric ant size comparison to 5 cent coin.
Electric ants are tiny — about 1.5mm long — golden brown in colour and can be found all around a home. Source: Queensland Government

Electric ants stings can cause severe pain, welts

Electric ant stings can inflict moderate to severe pain, and in some cases, a severe allergic reaction.

“Because electric ants are so tiny, people stung by them can blame mosquitoes or sand flies for welts they develop after enjoying the garden or sitting on the veranda,” the Invasive Species Council states. “Gardeners trimming branches or harvesting fruit can attract stings on the neck and torso, from ants falling from foliage.”

The invasive species is native to Central and South America but was first found in Cairns in 2006.

While the ants have never been found far outside of the Cairns region, there could be dense supercolonies awaiting detection, the Invasive Species Council warns. Evidence suggests they have the ability to also live in Southern NSW and WA.

Identifying electric ants

  • Electric ants are tiny — about 1.5mm long — golden brown in colour, and usually slow-moving.

  • They are social and are often found in groups.

  • Colonies can be established anywhere and have been found under stones, in potted plants, in garden waste, mulch, leaf litter, soil, trees, around swimming pools and water courses, and may be in wall cavities, clothing, bedding, garden furniture or camping gear.

  • They can survive in water and may sting you in your swimming pool.

Source: Queensland Government

To report suspect ants or request a yard check, complete the online form, or call the Customer Service Centre on 13 25 23.

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