African Black Sugar Ant

African black sugar ant (Lepisiota incisa) has been detected for the first time in Australia.  The initial detection occurred at Maddington, Western Australia in January 2020, with confirmatory molecular testing completed in March 2020.

The detection was made at a commercial premises during routine surveillance, as part of the national eradication programs for red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) and browsing ant (Lepisiota frauenfeldi). Further surveillance of the infested property identified a nest with two queens in a large pile of green waste material.

Between February and September 2020 multiple detections of African black sugar ant were made in the Perth metropolitan areas of Welshpool, North Fremantle, Wattleup and Forrestfield. There are currently 7 known infestations.

The detection at Forrestfield was made by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment during a National Border Surveillance survey in September 2020. It is the largest of the infestations and is estimated to be 4 to 5 years old.

Response activities

Activities to manage the risk of spread are underway for all infestations. Tracing and treatment activities are ongoing. Movement restrictions are in place at some high-risk sites and will be considered for the remaining infested sites to prevent the transport and spread of this pest.

African black sugar ant is a nationally significant pest under the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement. The National Biosecurity Management Consultative Committee and the National Biosecurity Management Group have agreed that it is technically feasible and cost beneficial to eradicate from Western Australia.

On 11 December 2020 the committee endorsed a national response plan (developed by the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development) to eradicate the infestation. The National Biosecurity Management Group approved the national response plan on 22 December 2020.

Biosecurity and report

Members of the community can help contain this ant by reporting any suspect sightings and taking care not to move the ant on goods, vehicles, or their clothes. Shipping containers, soil, mulch, fertiliser and other plant material can also be sources of the infestation.

The further the ant spreads, the less chance there is to eradicate it.

If you see unusual ants that could be an exotic species, including Red Imported Fire Ant or Browsing Ant, it is important that you report it to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 as soon as possible.

About African black sugar ant

Lepisiota incisa, sometimes known as African black sugar ant, is non-native to Australia but is highly suited to Australian conditions. While this ant is a significant threat to our environment, it is not harmful to people or pets.

This ant has a shortened head and thorax and is a shiny dark brown colour with thick blackish bristles. The upper surface of the lower midsection of its body has a deep notch on both ends. Its hairless legs are mostly yellow.

African black sugar ant is one of several invasive exotic ant species that has the ability to form super colonies by establishing interconnected nests with collaborative egg-laying queens. A single colony can spread for hundreds of square kilometers.

African black sugar ant demonstrates invasive characteristics with displays of aggressive behaviours towards other ant species, and is known to outcompete native ants.

PDF Icon

Photo courtesy of Pia Scanlan, DPIRD WA

PDF Icon

Photo courtesy of Pia Scanlan, DPIRD WA

PDF Icon

Photo courtesy of Pia Scanlan, DPIRD WA

PDF Icon

Photo courtesy of Michelle Christy, DPIRD WA

PDF Icon

Photo courtesy of Michelle Christy, DPIRD WA

Impacts

Compared to similar exotic species, African black sugar ant has a greater potential to establish in a wide variety of habitats including natural undisturbed bush areas.  If it becomes established, the ant may disrupt social, business and agricultural activities. It is not known to be a significant horticultural pest. African black sugar ant has been observed to harvest plastic and damage electrical equipment and infrastructure in Western Australia.

Exotic invasive ants have been identified as the seventh most important National Priority Plant Pest (2019), with closely related browsing ant (L. frauenfeldi ) one of the priority species listed and subject to national eradication programs in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Exotic invasive ants are also identified as high-risk pests on the National Priority List of Exotic Environmental Pests, Weeds and Diseases (2020).

More information on Australia’s approach to preparing for and responding to exotic invasive ants can be found in the National Invasive Ant Biosecurity Plan 2018 - 2028.

Response arrangements

The National Biosecurity Management Consultative Committee provides technical and scientific advice on responses to exotic pest and disease incursions that impact on Australia’s environment, social amenity or business activity, in accordance with arrangements under the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement. The Committee is chaired by the Australian Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer. Membership is generally comprised of representatives from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments.

The National Biosecurity Management Group is the decision-making body for responses to exotic pest and disease incursions that impact on Australia’s environment, social amenity or business activity, in accordance with arrangements under the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement. It is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Membership is generally comprised of senior officials from Commonwealth, state and territory governments.