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Why the government set aside $9.2 million in the budget to kill these little yellow ants

Lucy Dean
The government is spending $9.2 million on killing yellow crazy ants in Queensland. Source: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Biosecurity Queensland
The government is spending $9.2 million on killing yellow crazy ants in Queensland. Source: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Biosecurity Queensland

It was one of the more unusual lines in the 2019-20 Federal Budget papers.

“$9.2 million [will go] towards controlling yellow crazy ants in an and adjacent to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in Queensland, building on a 2016 election commitment.”

Yep – that’s a $9.2 million commitment to killing ants.

Here’s why

To call the yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) a pest is to put it lightly – the critter is on the list of the world’s 100 most invasive species and it continues to threaten Queensland’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

That’s one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests.

The problem is that the yellow crazy ants – an introduced species – can swarm in huge numbers, so they’re able to dispatch large animals like frogs and bird chicks.

Yellow to brownish in colour and just 5mm long, the ants spray acid to subdue prey, according to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“In large amounts, this acid may burn or otherwise irritate the skin and eyes of animals and humans. On Christmas Island, yellow crazy ants have decimated the land crab population and radically affected the ecosystem of the island.”

They were first discovered in Cairns, Queensland in 2001. But they’ve since spread.

As the NSW Department of Primary Industry (DPI) warned on its website, “[Yellow crazy ants] can build super colonies and devastate local flora and fauna and impact on agricultural production and the horticultural industry”.

The DPI has even employed an odour detection dog to hunt down the ants in CBD areas.