First Aid for the Electric Ant

Electric ants can be found in the Cairns region of northern Queensland. They have a long-lasting, painful sting that can blind animals and cause anaphylaxis in humans.
Electric ants can be found in the Cairns region of northern Queensland. They have a long-lasting, painful sting that can blind animals and cause anaphylaxis in humans.

Electric ants are tiny, slow-moving insects that can be found in Cairns and surrounding areas.

Native to Central and South America, these ants are one of the world's worst invasive species and represent a major biosecurity hazard for Queensland.

Likewise, they have a painful sting that can blind pets and cause severe allergic reactions in humans.

As such, it is important to be wary of the Electric ant - continue reading for more information about their identifying characteristics and preferred habitat, and what to do if you encounter one.

Appearance

Electric ants (wasmannia auropunctata) are golden-brown in colour and generally grow to just 1.5 mm long.

Due to their miniscule size, they are typically only spotted when they form distinct foraging lines alongside their equally slow-moving counterparts.

Unlike Fire ants, they are all the same size.

Habitat

Electric ants can be found in the Cairns region.

Rather than building visible nests, they prefer to establish their colonies in pre-existing spaces with shade and a little moisture, including:

  • Under stones, sleepers, and logs
  • In soil, garden waste, and leaf litter
  • Around swimming pools and water courses

History in Australia

Electric ants were first detected in the Cairns region of north Queensland in 2006. They are yet to be detected elsewhere in Australia.

It is thought that they hitched a ride to Australia via ships and planes containing host materials, such as:

  • Timber
  • Soil
  • Rocks

They have also invaded:

  • Mexico
  • West Africa
  • New Caledonia, among others

Danger

Electric ants represent an enormous threat to Australia's environmental, economic, and social health. For instance:

  • They can out-compete and displace other ant species
  • Dense infestations can decline invertebrate and small vertebrate numbers and lead to an overall reduction in biodiversity
  • So they can collect honeydew, they protect sap-sucking insects from other predators and can reduce the plant vigour and crop yield of agricultural farms
  • Their stings can can cause painful, persistent welts and severe allergic reactions in humans
  • Electric ants are attracted to pet food and have been known to attack, and in some cases blind, both domestic and wild animals

In light of their real and potential impacts on Queensland's environment and lifestyle, Electric ants are formally recognised as a category 1 restricted matter under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

They are also currently the focus of an Electric ant eradication program being coordinated by Biosecurity Queensland.

As such, if there are suspected Electric ants in your home or local community, you should contact Biosecurity Queensland or the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline. Their contact details can be found on this website.

First aid

If you witness a sting from an Electric ant:

  1. Move the casualty and others away from the Electric ants
  2. Calm and reassure the casualty
  3. Apply a cold compress to the affected area to reduce pain and swelling
  4. Gently wash the affected area with soap and water
  5. Leave the blisters intact
  6. Monitor for signs of anaphylaxis and respond accordingly
  7. Report the incident to the relevant authorities and close off the area to reduce the chances of future stings

Final thoughts

Found in the Cairns region, the Electric ant is one of the world's worst invasive species.

Not only do they spell trouble for agricultural industries, but they also have a painful, long-lasting sting that can blind animals and cause severe allergic reactions in humans.

If you suspect an Electric ant infestation in your home or local community, you should contact the relevant authorities to assist with their efforts in eradicating Electric ants. And if you sustain a sting from an Electric ant, take care to manage your symptoms with a cold compress.

To learn more about identifying and treating a host of different insect stings, book a First Aid course with Australia Wide First Aid today.

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