Helicopters and drones deployed as acid-spitting yellow crazy ants invade Queensland

Yellow Crazy Ants, which are one of the most invasive species in the world, have set their sights on taking over Townsville in Queensland, Australia. Credit: Pexels

By Daniel Boal, ITV News Multimedia Producer

Australia is notorious for a whole manner of wild and dangerous animals including giant crocodiles, venomous snakes and spiders that hide in your shoes.

But one Queensland city is being terrorised by a far smaller critter.

Acid spitting yellow crazy ants have invaded Townsville, with local authorities scrambling helicopters and drones to drop bait in a desperate effort to eradicate the super colonies.

Also known as the long-legged ant, they are one of the most invasive species in the world - aggressive and boasting huge colony sizes, they kill native wildlife and vegetation all while dragging down property values.

For years Townsville city council have been fighting a losing battle against the tiny invaders.

They have swept across at least ten suburbs, spitting formic acid that can burn the eyes and skin of people and blind and kill small animals.

Now armed with a AU$12 million (£6.3 million) war chest provided by the federal government, the council is starting a four-year eradication plan.

Crews will be dispatched to spread ant poison on infested areas, with choppers and drones being used in more remote regions.

Devastation of Christmas Island

At just 3-4mm long, it can be hard to image how much damage they could truly do. But when yellow crazy ants made it onto Christmas Island, they killed up to 20 million of the native land crabs, which are key to the island's ecosystem.

Populations of other animals were also decimated, and in some parts of the islands Christmas Island red crabs were completely wiped out.

To reduce the impact of the ants, in 2002 authorities carried out the first aerial baiting program.

Several other baiting programs were run, and while they slowed the decline of red crab populations, the affect on crazy ant populations were only temporary.

Speaking to ABC News, city councillor Maurie Soars said: "If we don’t get on it now, it may no longer be an eradication programme, it’ll just be a control programme.

"We have parts of the world where they can’t get rid of them. We don’t want to be in that space."

Bev Job from the Invasive Species Council said that local authorities are in a race against time.

"We've got nine endemic species on Mount Eliot [in Townsville] and the yellow crazy ants are known to be within two kilometres of the edge of the national park," Ms Job said.

"We could see extinctions if they got down there."

Believed to have originated from Africa, they have been transported around the world on ships.

First detected in Australia in the 1980s, they were discovered in Cairns, some 200 miles from Townsville, around 20 years later.

Infestations begin when a queen starts a new colony several metres away, allowing them to expand by around 100 metres per year.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...