Posted September 9, 2015 by Rachel Smith
September is statewide Little Fire Ant (LFA) month. Government and conservation organizations are teaming up across the state to bring awareness to the LFA issue in Hawaii. Calling it Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant month, the Hawaii Invasive Species Council (HISC), Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA), and projects under the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit (PCSU) hope to enlighten the public about the growing threats of LFA, and ask for the public to keep an extra eye out this month for any new populations.
Little Fire Ants, Wasmannia auropunctata, are one of Hawaii’s worst invaders. They may be small, but they pack quite a big punch. Measuring 1/16 of an inch, or about just as long as a penny is thick, these ants are tiny and extremely slow moving. Although there are over 50 different ant species in Hawaii, and none of them are native, the Little Fire Ants make the biggest impact. LFA are currently negatively affecting tourism, agriculture, the flower industry, wildlife, pets, and backyards across the state.
Little Fire Ants are native to Central America, and in 1999 were introduced to Hawaii through a plant shipment from a Florida nursery. At that time, they were brought into a nursery on the east side of Big Island, as well as a remote, private location on the north shore of Kauai. Since then, the LFA population on Big Island has exploded. There are widespread LFA on the east side of the Big Island and in recent years have spread to the west side of Big Island, as well as Maui and Oahu. However, on Kauai we are lucky to have contained the initial population to its introduction site. With the combination of work from HDOA, Hawaii Ant Lab (HAL), and KISC, as well as the cooperation of the landowners, we have been able to maintain and slowly phase out the LFA population on Kauai. We are currently in the final treatment stages at the introduction site, and will soon be moving into the monitoring stage.
This does not mean, however, that we are letting our guard down. LFA are making a big impact on the neighbor islands. Although small, they are highly aggressive, driving all other insect species out of their habitats. They are different from other ant species because they form super colonies and nest in trees. LFA are taking over coffee farms, nurseries, hiding in cut fresh flowers, blinding wildlife with their powerful stings, attacking hatchlings, and impacting the general quality of life in Big Island residential back yards, schools, and beach parks. LFA stings cause painful welts, that can lead to burning and itching skin for days to weeks, and in some cases, rashes, blistering, and anaphylactic shock. (For more info on their impacts,click here to watch a very moving and informative 28 minute short documentary about LFA!)
Since Little Fire Ants are SO small, they transport very easily inside plants, soil, and other landscaping material. Preventative measures to stop the spread of the LFA extend well beyond HDOA and biosecurity laws. Residents and businesses play a role as well. As long as people continue to import plants from Big Island, Kauai will always be threatened by Little Fire Ant. This is why we are trying to bring awareness to Little Fire Ant this month. It is up to us as residents of Hawaii to work together and act as stewards of this lovely land we all call home.
During Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant month, you can do your part by buying local and testing for LFA in your backyard. Buying local produce, locally propagated plants, and locally grown fresh cut flowers, can greatly minimize the spread of Little Fire Ants.
Testing for LFA in your backyard is a great way to participate in prevention, early detection, and eradication. By testing in your backyard you can help contribute to statewide survey data, which gives us more information about LFA populations in areas where we cannot normally access. The more places that are tested, the more we know about the LFA populations on each island. We hope that Kauai homeowners will find their properties to be LFA free, but if you do find them, KISC, HDOA, and HAL can come remove them from your yard for free. You can help contribute to protecting Kauai from the spread of LFA!
Testing in your back yard is easy. All you need is some wooden sticks and peanut butter. There are other species of fire ants on Kauai, as well as biting ants and LFA look-a-likes, therefore it is important to know the differences between LFA and other fire ant species before turning in your test kit.
Beginning Monday September 14th, and throughout the month you can pick up a free LFA test kit at any of the Kauai Public Libraries, HDOA office, or KISC office.
After testing, if you suspect LFA, mail in or drop off your samples at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture building, or to the KISC office. Be sure to write your name, phone number, and address on the plastic bag so we can identify your location.
Every test that is turned in during the month of September will be entered in a drawing to win a free Puakenikeni Tree.
Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA): 4398A Pua Loke Street, Lihue
Kauai Invasive Species Committee (KISC): 7370 Kuamoo Rd, #K, Kapaa
Do your part as a Guardian of the Garden Isle, and test your yard for LFA today!