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Detector dogs in Perth to snuff out pest ant

Specially-trained detector dogs from Queensland are visiting Western Australia on a mission to sniff out an exotic pest ant.

Two dogs are being deployed in Perth as part of an eradication program against browsing ant, Lepisiota frauenfeldi, funded by the Australian Government and involving the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA).

DAFWA Biosecurity and Regulation executive director Kevin Chennell said the ant-eating species, which can form super-colonies and displace native ant species, was detected at Perth Airport in 2013 and at a freight depot in Belmont.

“DAFWA has been working with more than 70 businesses in Belmont and at Perth Airport to eradicate the pest,” Dr Chennell said.

“Biosecurity is a shared responsibility and working collaboratively is important to safeguard our resources. These businesses have allowed DAFWA staff access to their properties to carry out regular checks to ensure this pest is eliminated.”

Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Deputy Secretary Lyn O’Connell said the surveillance activities would hopefully confirm that Perth Airport was free of browsing ant.

“It is impossible to stop everything at the border, but when we discover incursions quickly, like we did in this case, it gives us the best chance of completely eradicating a pest or disease,” Ms O’Connell said.

“It’s fitting that our officer who initially discovered the incursion will be on site helping to assess whether browsing ant has been successfully eradicated.”

Browsing ant is a tramp ant native to southern Europe, and is usually found in semi desert or Mediterranean regions.

Browsing ants are ideally suited to Australian conditions and can form multi-queened super-colonies, displacing native ant species and other invertebrates, which diminishes available food for higher order organisms such as lizards and birds.

Department senior technical officer Marc Widmer said the dogs, trained and provided by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, had been specially trained, or ‘imprinted’, to detect the odour of browsing ants.

“Our surveillance to date indicates that we have successfully controlled this ant but these dogs provide an extra pair of hands – or in this case nose – to boost our surveillance and ensure we have eradicated this pest,” Mr Widmer said.

National Fire Ant Eradication program director with Biosecurity Queensland Sarah Corcoran said the program’s successful use of odour detection dogs to sniff out invasive ants was a world first innovation.

The dogs can detect browsing ant pheromones from several metres away and identify ant nests long before they become visible to the human eye.

“The dogs are extremely accurate in detecting if browsing ants are present on a site,” she said.

“The program has used odour detection dogs to detect various exotic ant infestations in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.”

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