Invasive Ants
Background

It is not possible to imagine the impacts that a single invasive ant species can have on a small community living in  
this region.  Of the 15,000 or so ant species known to science, only a dozen or so are thought of as harmful.  Sadly,  
many of the most damaging ant species are already present here, and some are spreading from island to island at  
an alarming rate.  Thankfully, other species have not yet become established.

Pacific islands are especially vulnerable to invasive ants and have few natural defenses against their arrival and  
spread.  These ants can over-run entire islands, weakening the resilience of island ecosystems, destroying  
agriculture, stinging people, pets and domestic animals, and preventing exports.  Once a particular species  
becomes established within the region, it can spread very quickly from island to island. A coordinated prevention  
and response strategy would protect regional borders; provide technical expertise, training and information  
sharing.
Case study: Little Fire Ants in Papua New Guinea

In 2001, a young police officer returned to his village in west Yangoru district of Sepik Province in Papua New  
Guinea.  As he often did, he brought with him a gift for his mother - some beautiful orchid plants he had acquired  
while on duty in Bougainville.  Unknown to him, the plants harbored a small colony of Little Fire Ants  
(Wasmannia  auropunctata).  The ants found Bonihitaim village much to their liking and over the next five years  
spread throughout the village and surrounding jungle.  The residents of Bonihitaim quickly realized that this  
anis nogut” (bad ant) was no ordinary ant.  Some of the village dogs and pigs developed cloudy eyes rendering  
them partially blind.  The ants over-ran all of the houses, stinging families while they slept or went about their  
daily tasks.  The ants farmed mealybugs and scale insects in the village cocoa plantation.  The trees became  
unhealthy and cocoa production was cut in half.  The wildlife in the jungle surrounding the village disappeared.   
Birds, bandicoots, lizards and other insects were no longer to be seen.  Hunters now had to walk several miles to  
find animals to hunt.  Village life had changed forever.   

The Pacific Ant Prevention Programme

In 2003, The Pacific Ant Prevention Plan (the PAPP) was developed at a regional workshop attended by  
technical experts and representatives from many Pacific nations.  The plan, was prepared in response to multiple  
requests for assistance from Pacific Islands Countries and Territories (PICTs) to address the increasing impacts  
of invasive ants and the risk of invasion by new species such as the Red Imported Fire Ant.  The global  
Cooperative Initiative on Invasive Alien Species on Islands initiated the PAPP in partnership with PII, SPC,  
SPREP, NZ Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), MPI (previously, MAF Biosecurity New Zealand),  
USDA and other partners.  

The goal of the programme is “to protect biodiversity, livelihoods and lifestyles in the Pacific islands through the  
effective management of invasive ants”.  A central theme is to build capacity within the region to prevent, detect  
and manage invasive ant species and provide a coordinated approach to the provision of technical expertise as  
needed. The programme has been institutionalized at SPC’s Land Resource Division following endorsement of the  
plan by its member countries. And the Pacific Plant Protection Organization. However, it is currently not funded.   
With sufficient resources to implement the Pacific Ant Prevention Programme, the region will avoid  
considerable economic and biodiversity loss and hardship for countries and communities in the region. Invasive  
Ants can serve as a biosecurity “flagship” for all invasive insect pests, and strategies that prevent their entry and  
spread will likewise prevent many other invasive insect pests.

Some components of the plan have been delivered with the assistance of donor agencies such as the New Zealand  
Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the United States Forest Service, USDA APHIS and others.
In the ten years since the Pacific Ant Prevention Programme was drafted, Little Fire Ants have spread to six new  
locations:  French Polynesia (Tahiti and Moorea), Guam, Papua New Guinea (Sepik and Madang province) and  
Hawai‘i (Maui and Oahu).



 



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ON THE VERGE OF A BIOLOGICAL CRISIS:
the state of invasive species in the Pacific