Zombie Attack!!!

The red fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) was first detected in Brisbane during 2001 and triggered an eradication program that put all Australian states on notice. To date the red fire ant has not been detected in NSW, however the pest has been made notifiable under the Plant Diseases Act 1924 and any detection must be immediately reported to NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Red fire ants have the capacity to form 'super colonies' with multiple queens that can provide the ability to spread rapidly and develop extensive colonies. They are opportunistic feeders that are omnivorous and prey on invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants. They destroy seeds, harvest honeydew from specialised invertebrates and also scavenge. This can affect the whole ecosystem through reducing plant populations and competing with native herbivores and insects for food. For example, the ground-dwelling native bees and Thynid wasps are very 'species specific' and only pollinate native terrestrial orchids. Red Fire ants feeding on the orchids compete with the native bees and wasps, in addition pollination may not occur.

The red fire ant also has a nasty attack and groups will sting in synchrony, initiated by an alarm pheromone and the stings result in painful pustules, which may take weeks to heal.

Red fire ants were introduced into the United States of America in the late 1930s and have colonised over 275 million acres. One response was the introduction of a natural predator from their homelands. Scientists in Texas have introduced four kinds of phorid flies from South America to fight red fire ants. These USDA approved flies dive bomb ants and lay an egg inside the ant. The maggot hatches and eats away juicy tender delicious ant brain until the ant is nothing more than a zombie that wanders around for two weeks before the head falls off and the ant dies. A couple of these flies will cause the ants to modify their behaviour and this will be a very slow acting solution to curb the $1 billion in damage these ants do to Texas cattle ranches and — oddly enough — electrical equipment like circuit breakers.

This voodoo-style approach appears elsewhere in nature and, those not squeamish, might be interested to learn more about zombie cockroaches!!! This movie is particularly awesome.

And, thinking of zombie movies, here is an interesting chart showing how war and social upheavals cause spikes in the production of zombie-flavoured movies.