Queensland Senator James McGrath has ramped up his self-confessed “obsession” with exposing the real threat of Yellow Crazy Ants to North Queensland’s native ecosystems and food crops.
The senator raised the topic with Director of National Parks Sally Barnes during estimates hearings in Canberra for the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee.
“My questions focus on Yellow Crazy Ants, which I’m slightly obsessed by … these things are scary,” Senator McGrath said. “I have nightmares about them.”
Mass infestations of Yellow Crazy Ants have flown very much under the radar of general public awareness, but are devastating native ecosystems and wildlife - particularly near the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
Ms Barnes told the senate estimates hearing similar infestations on Christmas Island had exploded into “super colonies” over recent decades as a result of an abundance of food. But the Department of Environment hopes, after a four-year study with La Trobe University, it has found a biological solution.
“A very very small micro-wasp to break the cycle of food and ant, and actually introduce that wasp that will actually eat some of that food supply,” Ms Barnes said.
“The recommendation we have is if we reduce the food supply by bringing in something that will actually destroy the food supply, we will be able to control the ants to a lesser number. We haven’t talked about eradication.”
Ms Barnes hoped the wasps would be introduced to Christmas Island by late this year, pending government approvals.
Yellow Crazy Ants are among the top 100 most invasive creatures on Earth, dominating food sources through their aggressiveness, their protection of pests like scale and aphids, which helps the spread of sooty mould that kill crops like sugar cane, fruit trees and backyard vegetable gardens.
The ants also prey on native ants, insects, spiders, worms, frogs and birds for breeding hosts.
Senator McGrath visited the infested sites in North Queensland in April and subsequently raised the concerns with Minister for Environment Greg Hunt, who has described the issue as “greatly disturbing”.
Senator McGrath praised the work of the Wet Tropics Management Authority and the local green army groups.
The Abbott Government has given more than $1.9million for eradication programs in the Wet Tropics World Heritage area, as well as $268,000 for management along the area boundary, and funded Green Army teams to assist with controlling the ants.
The senate estimates hearing heard that the Department of Environment would consider further green army project applications.