Okinawa prepares to keep South American fire ants out

Okinawa Prefecture officials are taking steps to strengthen defenses against a possible invasion of fire ants, an invasive species from South America that was recently discovered in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, after having presumably arrived in a shipping container via China. The ants are virulent and their bite extremely painful and could cause death if many of them bite a person.

Although none has been found in Okinawa so far, the prefecture has earmarked ¥30 million for the project this fiscal year. The prefecture has commissioned OIST to study and develop technology for early detection of fire ants. Researchers have already started an intensive investigation in 25 study areas on Okinawa and Ishigaki Islands. setting traps in major ports that could be pathways for the ants’ entry.

Fire ants already exist in Taiwan and China, and they were found for the first time in Japan in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture last month. They have not been found in Okinawa so far, however Okinawa is vulnerable to invasive species as it is an island with many ships and tourists visiting. Therefore, prefecture officials decided it imperative that strict control measures should be implemented immediately.