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Japan Trials Sniffer Dogs to Detect Fire Ants as Environment Ministry Seeks Their Introduction to Combat Invasive Species

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A sniffer dog sits down to alert a trainer to the presence of fire ants in a canister during a demonstration at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Sunday.

Dogs might be the next step in Japan’s efforts to combat fire ants.

Two beagles at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, were given a trial run Sunday to see if they could detect dead fire ants.

When the dogs passed in front of a canister containing the dead ants, they sat down to successfully alert the people around them of the ants’ presence.

The demonstration conducted by the Environment Ministry was open to the press.

Earlier this month the ministry conducted a series of tests inviting sniffer dogs and related personnel from Taiwan, where such dogs to sniff out fire ants have already been introduced.

Fire ants are native to South America and have highly toxic stings. They were first confirmed in Japan in June 2017. There have since been 110 cases of fire ant sightings in 18 prefectures including Tokyo.

In many of these cases, they have been found in places such as ditches at ports and harbors in Japan. There are growing fears that they may be settling in the nation.

Sniffer dogs are expected to efficiently detect fire ant clusters.

“They have a sense of smell that can even detect fire ants that are underground,” said Hironori Sakamoto, a senior researcher at the institute.

In April, the ministry designated fire ants as an invasive alien species requiring urgent response and has further strengthened border control measures.