Little Fire Ant Spreads to Kona

Agricultural officials have confirmed the spread of the invasive Little Fire Ant from populations in East Hawaii to the West side of the Island.

The species was first detected in the Big Island’s Puna district in 1999.  The new finding was made at two locations in Kailua-Kona—one at a residence, and the other at a landscaping firm that may have been infested for two years, according to the owner.

Photo of fire ant colony courtesy R. Heu and the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

Image courtesy W. Nagamine & the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

State entomologists believe that it is likely that there may be other unreported locations that are infested in West Hawaii.

The invasive species was confirmed here on Maui four months ago at a farm in Waihee.

The little fire ant (LFA) is considered among the world’s worst invasive species, producing painful stings and large red welts that can cause blindness in pets.  The species is originally from South America.  The tiny ants are just 1/16th inch long, are pale orange in color and move slowly.  They can build up very large colonies on the ground and in trees and other vegetation and completely overrun a property.  Agricultural official say they will also freely move into homes.

Surveys determined that LFA appeared to have been on the west side of Hawaii Island for several years prior to their initial detection and was widely distributed in Puna.  Attention was then focused on controlling ant populations and preventing the spread to uninfested areas on the island and to other islands.

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Supporting Information Courtesy the Hawaii Department of Agriculture)

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Workers Trained to Fight Maui’s Newest Pest, The Little Fire Ant

State and County workers on Maui gathered for a special training session to battle Maui’s newest pest, the invasive Little Fire Ant, which was discovered on a farm in Waihee earlier this month.

 

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Mach Fukada (R) shows County employee Tamara Wells a live specimen of the Stinging Nettle Caterpillar, another pest species of particularly high concern because of its ability to deliver painful stings to people and its impact on the agricultural industry. Photo courtesy County of Maui.

More than 50 employees attended the meeting at the Waikapu Community Center on Wednesday.  The session was set up by Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares as a way to ensure the safety of field employees and increase the county’s ability to detect and report sightings as well as prevent widespread establishment of the species.

 

The ant, which is smaller than a grain of rice, has a painful bite that can result in intense itching for two or more weeks in humans, and can cause blindness or death in pets and livestock.

 

“We want to make sure that our employees are informed about Little Fire Ants and taking all the necessary precautions to protect themselves while working in areas that may be infested or may become infested with them,” Mayor Tavares said.

 

“At the same time,” Tavares said, “they can assist the Department of Agriculture by keeping a lookout for LFA and reporting suspected sightings. Early detection and rapid response will be the key to controlling their populations before they become too wide-spread and established.”

 

The session was led by Maui County’s sole entomologist with the Department of Agriculture, Mach Fukada, who was laid off effective mid-December due to State budget cuts.

 

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County of Maui Environmental Coordinator Kuhea Paracuelles (standing, left) addresses County and State employees at the Little Fire Ant training led by entomologist Mach Fukada (standing, right). Photo Courtesy County of Maui.

Attendees were provided with informational brochures and preserved specimens of Little Fire Ants to assist with identification while working in the field. County employees from the Department of Environmental Management, Fire & Safety, Housing & Human Concerns, the Mayor’s Office, Parks and Recreation, Planning, Public Works, Risk Management and Water Supply attended, as well as employees from the State Department of Land & Natural Resources, Forestry & Wildlife and Land Divisions.

 

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Information provided by the County of Maui)

Invasive Fire Ant Found at Farm in Waihee, Maui

An invasive, stinging ant called the Little Fire Ant (LFA) has been discovered on a farm in Waihee, on Maui.  Agricultural officials say it appears that the ant infestation is confined to a ½-acre area on the farm and the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) is preparing an eradication program.  Although this ant species has been on the Big Island since at least 1999, this is the first discovery of the ant on Maui.

Image courtesy W. Nagamine & the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

Image courtesy W. Nagamine & the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

Photo of fire ant colony courtesy R. Heu and the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

Photo of fire ant colony courtesy R. Heu and the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

LFA are tiny ants, measuring 1/16th inch long, are pale orange in color and move slowly.  They can produce painful stings and large red welts and cause blindness in pets.  They can build up very large colonies on the ground and in trees and other vegetation and completely overrun a property.  They can also freely move into homes..

The following is a chronology of events on Maui:

On October 2, 2009, the HDOA’s entomologist on Maui followed up on a call about ants stinging people on a farm in Waihee.  Ant specimens were collected and sent to Honolulu, where the ant was positively identified as LFA, Wasmannia auropunctata, on October 5th.

On October 6th, HDOA’s Maui entomologist and two Plant Quarantine inspectors surveyed Waihee Elementary School, which is located about ¼ mile from the infested farm.  No LFA were detected at the school.

From October 7 through the 13th, staff from Honolulu and the Big Island joined the Maui crew to conduct surveys at the infestation site and determined that LFA is confined to about 1/2 acre of the property.  Surveys determined that the ant did not occur in the surrounding area, which includes macadamia nut fields and other private lands.

HDOA is working with the landowner, to eradicate the ant on that property.  HDOA is using a combination of techniques to confine the ants and eradicate them, which involves using two types of ant baits and restricting the movement of infested material off and within the property.  Entomologists report that, by the size of the ant colonies, LFA may have been at the site for about one year.

The department is also conducting trace back and trace forward research to determine the original source of the ants and the potential places where it may have been moved.

HDOA has been conducting surveys for this ant throughout Maui, but will increase this effort by training Maui County field crews about this stinging ant and the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) on how to conduct surveys for LFA at high-risk areas on Maui. MISC has received funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to conduct these surveys.

HDOA would like to request the public’s help in determining if there are other infestations on the island.  Suspected LFA or other stinging ants on Maui should be reported to the Maui office of HDOA Plant Quarantine Branch at 873-3962 or to the State’s toll-free PEST HOTLINE at 643-PEST (7378).

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Information provided by the State Department of Agriculture)