The Japanese government has decided to step up measures against highly venomous fire ants by designating them as an invasive alien species that requires urgent action.
Government officials made the decision amid a rise in cases nationwide involving fire ants. They fear the species, indigenous to South America, are on the brink of becoming established in Japan.
More than 90 cases have been reported since 2017, when fire ants were first found in Japan. In October, more than 10,000 fire ants were discovered in a shipping container that had been unloaded at Fukuyama Port in Hiroshima Prefecture.
The designation is based on the revised invasive alien species law, which will allow the government to take certain measures starting next April if fire ants are found in imported goods, at ports or elsewhere.
The measures will include movement bans, and inspections, the disposal or disinfection of goods and facilities by the government even after customs clearance.
Businesses handling imported goods will be required to have staff in charge of notifying the government if insects are discovered that may be fire ants.
The Environment Ministry says the sting from fire ants can cause severe pain and cases of fatal allergic reactions have been reported abroad.
The ministry is asking people to contact the authorities if they find insects that appear to be fire ants, and to not disturb them.