Sydney authorities have confirmed that a dangerous red fire ant infestation at Port Botany had its origins overseas.
The ants were detected earlier this week at the Port Botany container terminal.
It is the first time the insect, which is native to South America, has been found in Australia outside Queensland.
The discovery sparked an emergency response.
“[What we’re doing is] quarantining this area of land to prohibit the movement of soil and any other material that may harbour ants to prevent further spread,” said DPI Senior Regulatory Inspector, Rob Bowman.
He said the ants have been sent to Brisbane’s Fire Ant Control Centre for genetic testing.
“Fire ants are the most serious invasive ant pest that we can have,” he told SBS World News. “This is our first detection in New South Wales the ant is quite aggressive and inflicts very painful stings and it will affect live stock, humans that encounter its nests.”
The South American natives also kill off other ant colonies and can have a devastating effects on macro flora, other insects, small lizards and hatching birds.
The insect is listed as a “key threatening process” under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
The federal Department of the Environment said the red imported fire ant can form “super colonies” that can spread rapidly.
Trained sniffer dogs have been brought in to help destroy the pests.
“Their job is to go around and provide proof that it’s work it’s been effective and that there’s no fire ant left in that area,” said biosecurity handler Justin Gibson.
The Invasive Species Council said this latest incursion has highlighted the need to review biosecurity measures.
“This is the foot and mouth [disease] equivalent for our environment and our way of life,” said Andrew Cox from the Invasive Species Council.
According to experts, the red fire ant could run up an estimated bill of $43 billion if the population is not eradicated in southeast Queensland over the next three decades.
In south-west America, efforts to contain the red fire ant cost $7 billion each year for control, damage repair and medical treatment. The insects also have caused more than 80 deaths in the region.
The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries said it will continue to monitor the Port Botany site, but added that the infestation is an isolated incident.