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    Quarantine tightened on red ant alert
Tonny Chan and Wang Zhuoqiong
2005-01-25 06:19

SHENZHEN: Hong Kong fisheries and agricultural authorities are on guard to keep the notorious breed of insect fire ants out of Hong Kong following reports of its activities in a local district of Guangdong Province.

Hong Kong has so far been unaffected by fire ants. A local insect specialist says the most notorious member of the fire ant family can cause serious agricultural losses and is a health concern for individuals.

Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua yesterday broke the news at a meeting with a group of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) members in Guangzhou, saying that fire ants were recently found in the local district of Wuchuan.

Huang said that because of the threat, the authorities decided to take extra quarantine measures to ensure floral exports to Hong Kong are not contaminated with the ants.

According to Guangdong Plants Protection Station (GPPS), the species found in Wuchuan is the most notorious member of the fire ant family "Solenopsis invicta."

In the West, Solenopsis invicta is commonly known as the "red imported fire ant." Native to Brazil, they are reddish brown with worker ants 3 to 6 millimeters long. The worker ants have a powerful sting they can use for defence and to subdue prey.

Assistant Professor Billy Hau of the University of Hong Kong's Department of Ecology and Biodiversity believes it is the first time for the ant to have been detected on the mainland.

An Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spo-kesman said they "will monitor the situation closely and will contact our mainland counterparts for more information. If necessary, we will alert the trade to take appropriate precautions."

The spokesman said there is no record of the ants being found in Hong Kong.

Hau said that although the ant has its origin in Brazil, it lives in the United States and Australia where they had caused substantial damage to local agriculture.

The ant was first detected in local waste sites in seven towns of Wuchuan last month and reported to the Department of Agriculture in Guangdong early this month.

Head of GPPS, Chen Zhongnan, said the situation is not serious and everything is under control.

Chen said that since the fire ants lived in concentrated groups, it was not difficult to kill them by using pesticide solution and poisonous baits at their mounds. He believes most of the ants have been destroyed.

He gave assurances that plants and vegetables for export to Hong Kong would be strictly checked to ensure zero infection.


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