Browsing ant in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia
National response programs are underway in the Northern Territory (NT), Queensland (QLD) and Western Australia (WA) to eradicate infestations of browsing ant (Lepisiota frauenfeldi). All of the programs are on track to achieve eradication.
Browsing ant is not native to Australia and is a serious environmental pest. It can form super colonies that eat and displace native ant species, as well as other insects. The colonies can also damage plants and landscaping.
Current situation in the NT
Browsing ant was first detected in the NT in June 2015 at Darwin’s seaport. There are currently 20 infested premises in Darwin, the majority of which are located in the industrial suburb of East Arm, with a small number in nearby local areas.
Ongoing activities by the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources have so far contained the ants. These activities involve tracing, surveillance, baiting, and spraying. They are funded by a nationally cost-shared eradication program approved by the National Biosecurity Management Group.
Current situation in QLD
Browsing ant was first detected in QLD in April 2019 at a shipping container yard at the Port of Brisbane (Fisherman Island). Surveillance activities indicate the ant has not spread beyond the immediate area of the detection.
Tracing is underway to work out how the incursion happened and to confirm that the ant has not been inadvertently moved off the site. Treatment and post treatment surveillance activities are also underway. Businesses that use this part of the port facility are being engaged to support surveillance, treatment and tracing efforts.
Response activities are funded by a nationally cost-shared eradication program approved by the National Biosecurity Management Group.
Current situation in WA
The first detection of browsing ant in WA was at Perth airport in 2013. This was followed by a detection at commercial properties in the suburb of Belmont in 2014. Browsing ant has now been eradicated from both sites with area freedom declared in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Also in 2017, further browsing ant infestations were found at Welshpool and Kewdale, south-east of Perth. These infestations may be linked to the original infestation at Perth airport, possibly due to the movement of cargo between the airport and these areas.
In 2018, two browsing ants were detected at the RAAF base in Bullsbrook. Further surveillance over several months has failed to find further ants or a nest.
The Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) has treated all known infestations by spraying and using baits. For the Bullsbrook site, surveillance and treatment has been undertaken in association with the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the Department of Defence.
From 2019 to 2020, DPIRD will survey around 250 at-risk sites throughout WA. This is being undertaken through a nationally cost-shared eradication program approved by the National Biosecurity Management Group.
About browsing ants
Browsing ant is a slender ant, and is a consistent shiny dark brown in colour. It is 3–4mm in length with long antennae and long legs, and runs about in a crazy or haphazard manner when disturbed.
It forms super colonies, reaching large numbers and will be noticeable on the ground as well as in trees, leaf litter and infrastructure such as electrical boxes. It farms and protect scale insects which can eventually kill the plants it lives on, and it eats and displaces native ant species as well as other insects. The immediate impacts of browsing ant are considered to be environmental. However, the species’ ability to farm scale insects and the subsequent effects on plant health, indicates risk to agriculture and horticulture of national significance.
Browsing ant is commonly found in the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.
It forms part of a group referred to as Tramp Ants.
What you need to do
It is important that people who live or work around the affected areas in the NT, QLD and WA are vigilant for this ant and report any suspect sightings.
Ants can hitchhike their way out of the area on goods and vehicles. In particular, they can be moved with shipping containers and cargo, as well as in soil, mulch, fertiliser and other plant material.
Before leaving any site where ants are present, check that they aren't in your consignment, and haven't crawled onto vehicles, equipment or clothing.
The movement restrictions mandated at infested sites must be adhered to so this ant is not inadvertently moved out of the area or interstate.
If you think you've found a browsing ant population, you must report it to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 as soon as possible.