Red imported fire ant (RIFA) (Solenopsis invicta) is one of the worst invasive species to reach Australia. These ants impact our environment and many industries, including agriculture. They can restrict everyday activities such as barbeques, picnics and sporting events.

RIFA can inflict painful bites on people, pets and livestock. They can also cause extensive damage to ecological and agricultural systems.

Detection in Australia

RIFA was first detected in Australia in February 2001. Infestations were found in South-East Queensland, at:

  • Port of Brisbane (along a fence line at an approved arrangement facility)
  • southwestern suburbs of Brisbane.

Past detections

Several RIFA incursions in Australia have been successfully eradicated. This includes:

  • Yarwun, QLD in 2013
  • Port Botany, New South Wales in 2014
  • Brisbane Airport, QLD in 2015
  • Port of Brisbane (Fisherman Island), QLD in 2016
  • Fremantle Port, WA in 2019.

Response programs

Response programs are underway in:

  • South-East Queensland (since 2001) and South Murwillumbah in NSW (since 2023) under the National Fire Ant Eradication Program (NFAEP)
  • Port of Brisbane in QLD (unrelated to the RIFA population in South-East Queensland and NSW).

RIFA is a nationally significant pest under the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA).

This ant is the target of a $596 million national cost-shared eradication program.

New South Wales

On 24 November 2023, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) confirmed the detection of RIFA at one site in South Murwillumbah in north-eastern NSW, 13 km south of the Queensland border.

This is the first fire ant detection in northern NSW and presumed to be the most southern infestation as part of the National Fire Ant Eradication Program (NFAEP).

NSW DPI is the lead agency for the South Murwillumbah detection and is working closely with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) and the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to contain the infestation. Experienced teams are onsite chemically treating the infestation across a 200-metre radius. This is an agreed activity under the NFAEP Response Plan that aims to control, trace and eradicate infestations.

NSW DPI Officers are working to determine the extent of the infestation, undertaking genetic testing of the fire ants, and searching all properties within the control area.

NSW DPI has put a Control Area in place, across a 5-km radius from the infested site in South Murwillumbah. This means certain restrictions apply to the movement of risk material such as: mulch, woodchips, compost, sand, gravel, soil, hay and other baled products; and agricultural equipment and earth moving equipment, dump trucks and bins.

These materials may move into and within the 5-km control area. Residents and businesses wanting to move these materials out of the 5-km Control Area must meet the requirements under NSW’s Emergency Order. These requirements and further information about NSW’s response to RIFA are available on their website:

Red imported fire ants (dpi.nsw.gov.au)

South-East Queensland

RIFA has been under eradication in Queensland since 2001. The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) leads the response.

The program operates under an approved response plan. The plan covers all aspects of the response including:

  • a surveillance and monitoring program
  • treatment to eradicate the ant at infected sites
  • movement restrictions at high-risk sites and on potential host material
  • monitoring after treatment to ensure premises remain pest free for at least of 24 months.

The plan was endorsed through the national emergency response arrangements. Costs are shared between the Australian, state and territory governments. The Queensland government contributes extra resources and funding to the eradication program.

The program is governed by a national steering committee. It includes representatives from Australian, state and territory governments.

See more at Fire ants (qld.gov.au).

Western Australia

RIFA was detected at Fremantle port in 2019. The WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) led the response.

Western Australia has completed a successful biosecurity eradication response with the National Biosecurity Management Group declaring the state free of RIFA in October 2023.

Response activities included a 2-year surveillance and treatment program to demonstrate successful eradication of the pest.

Businesses that use the port, local governments and the wider community were supportive of the surveillance, treatment and eradication efforts.

See more at Fire ants (wa.gov.au)

See more

How we coordinate a response to an outbreak.

Your obligations

If you live or work around affected areas in QLD or NSW, look out for this ant. You must report any suspected sightings.

Report sightings

Report any unusual ants, even if you’re not sure.

Call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 to report signs of browsing ants.

For signs of exotic pests and diseases in imported goods, sea containers or parcels, call See. Secure. Report on 1800 798 636 or use our online form.

Follow the rules

Keep exotic dangerous pests and diseases out of Australia. Never ignore our strict biosecurity rules.

You may need to treat and certify import shipments. Before you import, check our Biosecurity Import Conditions system (BICON).

Movement restrictions

Movement restrictions are mandated at infested sites. You must adhere to them. They ensure the ant is not moved out of infested areas or interstate.

See more about response activities and restrictions in each state:

About the pest

RIFA is an exotic invasive ant and an environmental pest.

The ant is native to South America. It has spread to the United States, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Australia.

What to look for

RIFA are copper brown in colour, with a darker abdomen. They are 2-6mm in length and highly aggressive. A single RIFA nest can contain many different sized ants.

Fire ants can adapt to most climates and environments around the world. They invade both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Close up of a red imported fire ant
Photo courtesy of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Watch

See Fire ant identification video (YouTube – Biosecurity Queensland)

Impacts

Red imported fire ant impacts our environment and our way of life. Australia’s climate, landscape and absence of natural predators make a perfect home for RIFA.

RIFA can inflict painful bites on people, wildlife, pets and livestock. They also cause extensive damage to ecological and agricultural systems and infrastructure.

See more at Impacts - National Fire Ant Eradication Program (fireants.org.au)

How it spreads

Fire ants are highly mobile. They can fly up to 5km and travel over and underground. They can also raft on waterways after floods or rain.

Ants can hitchhike on goods and vehicles. They can move with shipping containers and cargo. They can also hide in soil, mulch, fertiliser and plant material.

Exotic invasive ants are included on: