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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January 2005, 13:33 GMT
Hong Kong on red ant alert
Workers disinfect large areas in the New Territories during a hunt for killer red ants in Hong Kong 27 January 2005
Workers are disinfecting large areas of the New Territories
Hong Kong has launched a mass hunt for red fire ants, after their anthills were found in a rural area.

The ants, whose name stems from a burning sensation caused by their sting, are thought to have reached Hong Kong in imported potted plants.

The infestation is also threatening the supply of tangerine trees Hong Kong uses to celebrate Chinese New Year.

An attack by a swarm of the insects can cause allergic reactions, which, in extremely rare cases, can be fatal.

Originally from South America
Feeds on other insects, soft fruits and can attack small birds
Construct colonies on farmland
Stings cause blisters prone to infection, and sometimes anaphylactic shock

Hong Kong's Health Secretary York Chow announced territory-wide inspections for the native South American ant, after its anthills were found in Hong Kong's rural New Territories.

As if that wasn't enough, the infestation is also threatening the supply of tangerine trees from across the border in China,

The trees are part of Hong Kong's traditional way of celebrating the lunar new year - coming up on 9 February.

But Chinese Customs officers are reported to be holding up shipments of the trees to check if they are infected, and to try to control the spread of the insects.

Meanwhile, questions are also being asked about why it took Chinese authorities in neighbouring Guangdong province so long to warn Hong Kong about a problem which first surfaced at least two months ago.

It has sparked concern over whether the lessons about better communications, which should have been learned after the deadly Sars virus, have really made an impact.

Taipei battles ant infestation
04 Oct 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Super ant colony hits Australia
14 Aug 04 |  Science/Nature
Killer ants threaten Australia
28 Feb 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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