Race against time to contain crazy infestation
A SIX-LEGGED invader has staked out a 35 hectare territory in the Whitsundays, and environmentalists fear the creature will expand to the islands.
Yellow crazy ants were first discovered at Shute Harbour in the Whitsundays in July, throwing Biosecurity Queensland and Whitsunday Regional Council into a frenzied bid to control the pests' spread.
Since the initial discovery of the ants, a council spokesman said, there had been 10 to 15 reports from the public about the insects, but none had been found outside Shute Harbour.
Despite facing a tiny nemesis, he said the eradication program would take at least three to five years.
James Cook University research fellow Peter Yeeles has been on the trail of the ants around Cairns for two years, and he said the Whitsundays had a mammoth battle ahead of it.
Dr Yeeles said they were the worst invasive insect species in the world.
He said their ability to form dense "supercolonies" with more than one queen meant the ants could out-compete and overwhelm native species.
Dr Yeeles said residents in infested areas had shared horror stories of hundreds of ants crawling over them while they slept.
One cane farmer from south of Cairns, he said, was temporarily blinded by the ants' acidic spray when a supercolony formed under his home.
Reef Catchments pest and weed project officer Chris Barbeler said he was confident the early stage invasion could be contained.
But he fears the insects could infiltrate the pristine Whitsunday islands.
"(On the islands) they could spread quite rapidly and without our knowledge," he said.
Queensland Marine Parks had inspected islands, including Hamilton Island, but had found no ants, a council spokesman said.
Two rounds of baiting in Shute Harbour had been undertaken, he said, and more was planned.
But Dr Yeeles said in the lead-up to the wet season, it was a race against time to destroy the ant colonies.
He said in heavy rain the ants could form a "raft of ants" by clinging to each other and float downstream to new areas.
Mr Barbeler said timing was crucial.
"If we don't get it now, it will be an issue," he said.