Ministry seeks mystery ant sender

7 February 2013

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is seeking public help to find a person who sent an ant sample to an insect scientist at Landcare Research in Auckland, but provided no contact details or information about where the ant was found.

The ant has been identified as an Australian species of carpenter ant, the golden sugar ant (Camponotus aeneopilosus), and it appears to be a new introduction to the country as there are no established species of this ant in New Zealand.

The single insect was packaged in a small plastic jar and addressed specifically to the Landcare scientist with a short note saying only “Hi, here is an ant I found at the beach”. The signature on the note was indecipherable.

MPI’s Plants and Environment Incursion Investigation Manager Mark Bullians says the potential impacts of this ant, should it become established in New Zealand, are uncertain.

“We know some species of carpenter ants can cause structural damage to wooden buildings as they chew out holes in wooden materials to build their nests. This particular ant may also have potential for environmental impact as, if established here, it could build nests in native trees and compete with native insects and birds for food.

“For these reasons, we’re very keen to hear from the sender of this ant sample. We would like to find out more about the location the ant was found so that we can carry out an investigation and ensure that if there are further ants, they are located and destroyed,” says Mr Bullians.

MPI has made considerable effort in the weeks since the ant sample was sent in late last year to try to locate the sender but all enquiries so far have drawn a blank.

The ant was sent in a courier envelope and the courier company concerned can only provide minimal information that the envelope was one of a batch purchased by a courier contractor based in Te Aroha. For this reason the Ministry believes the sample may have come from somewhere in the Waikato.

In addition, Landcare Research has contacted all its usual submitters of specimens to ask if they know about the sample or possible senders, but no-one has responded.

Mr Bullians asks that the person who sent the ant, or anyone who knows this person or knows about this issue, contact the Ministry’s freephone Pest and Disease hotline: 0800 80 99 66.

“After exhausting all possible means of locating this person, we appeal to the public for support in this search. It may be that the ant was dead when found and had been caught up in someone’s shoes or outdoor/camping gear that had been used overseas. We’re optimistic that it is a single one. But we’d like to have some certainty.”

If you think you have seen a number of unusually large ants, particularly in a beach area, please report it through the above phone number.

For further information, contact:

Lesley Patston, Senior communications Adviser, 029 8940163
Email: Lesley.patston@mpi.govt.nz