Yellow crazy ants.
Yellow crazy ants.

The Whitsundays are ‘under attack’

THE Whitsunday region, with its beautiful rainforests and spectacular islands, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Most of them are welcome but there is one particular type of visitor that we wish had never arrived.

Back in July it became public knowledge that an infestation of yellow crazy ants had been found around Shute Harbour. Investigations revealed they have established themselves in the Conway National Park and on land outside the park.

Yellow crazy ants have caused severe disruption to natural systems. On isolated Christmas Island several species of crab have evolved unique behaviours. The Christmas Island Red Crab spends most of its life on land, only returning to the marine environment to breed in a spectacular annual mass migration. The red crabs recycle nutrients such as leaf litter, a role that is essential to maintain the health of the island’s forests.

After yellow crazy ants were accidentally introduced to the island the population of red crabs plummeted. The ants spray formic acid as a defence mechanism, which blinds the crabs and leads to their death.

It’s not just Christmas Island where yellow crazy ants have become a problem. In the Cairns hinterland more than 1400 hectares have become infested with the ants. A multimillion-dollar eradication program has been undertaken for a decade but the problem continues to grow.

Water is no barrier to yellow crazy ants. A colony on the move can form into a “raft” and float downstream. They enjoy wet weather as it gives them an opportunity to establish themselves far from their original site of infestation.

People in the Cairns region fear the ants finding their way into rivers and streams that flow into the vicinity of the city. Once they are established in suburbia it becomes impossible for people to use their backyards in the face of the pain inflicted by swarms of ants. Outdoor pets can also be killed by the ants.

Tourists are unlikely to visit Whitsunday national parks or islands where they will suffer pain and debilitating attacks.

In Cairns cane farmers are particularly concerned about the ants because they have a mutual relationship with scaly insects that damage crops. The insects produce a sugary sap that the crazy ants feed upon. The residue can encourage the growth of mould and other diseases in sugar cane.

It’s essential that government acts now to eliminate this threat.

Peter McCallum, Mackay Conservation Group


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