October was statewide Stop the Ant Month, but all year long watching out for these ants is important. This year is more important than ever for Kauai to stay vigilant against these stinging invaders!
Read on for answers to some frequently asked questions about Little Fire Ants….
Why are Little Fire Ants (LFA) such a threat?
LFA are tiny, spec-size ants that live both in trees and on the ground. They form super-colonies covering many square miles and reach densities up to 80 million ants per acre. They have very powerful stings. They threaten harm to human health, pets, agriculture, all outdoor activities, and our way of life. They are listed as one of the 100 worst invasive species on the planet.
Are LFA the same as those red “fire ants” that we have on the west side?
- They have a similar name, “fire ant,” but they’re not the same.
- Many Kauai residents are familiar with Tropical Fire Ants TFA (Solenopsis geminata), especially on the west side. But TFA are different from LFA. They are more than twice as large as LFA, darker red, and they nest on the ground only, not in trees. They do sting, but not nearly as badly as LFA.
- Little Fire Ants LFA (Wasmannia auropunctata) are far worse. LFA stings cause welts that can last a week. They sting pets eyes and cause corneal clouding and blindness. They fall out of trees in “stinging clouds” onto people trying to pick fruit or walking below. They aggressively overrun the ecosystem and out-compete other beneficial insects. They are known to sting or even kill ground-nesting native baby birds and hatchling turtles. LFA make it hard to go to the beach or let kids play outside without worry. They can even move indoors and infest your house. If LFA became established on Kauai it would change our life on the island.
Do we have LFA on Kauai?
- Yes, currently there are 5 known population sites.
- Through the collective efforts of HDOA, KISC, and the Hawaiʻi Ant Lab, treatment has been largely successful at the first three sites with LFA now undetectable at the Kalihiwai and Kilauea locations and reduced at the Moloaa site.
- In 2022, two new populations have been detected (Wailua and Koloa/Omao). Delimiting surveys are underway to determine the population size and perimeter.
How do they get here?
- LFA are skillful hitch-hikers. They have spread around the world by stowing away and traveling with people. They are very tiny, pale orange, hard to see; they especially like to hide out on plants, in pots, or soil, but also in shipments of tires, building supplies, or any kind of cargo. An entire LFA colony can fit inside a macadamia nut shell.
- So they can arrive here at any time—on imported plants or traveling in any kind of cargo brought in from infested areas.
What can we do?
Two things everyone can do to help:
1— Check your plants for ants! Whenever you buy new plants, whatever the source, always take a close look to check for ants.
2— Test your yard every year.
- HERE’S WHY: If we find these ants early, before they become established, we can stop them taking over. When LFA first arrive, they are in small numbers and they can stay under the radar for a long time before they are noticed. By the time they have multiplied enough to be noticeable, it may be too late to control them. But if we test regularly and find them early, we can stop them from becoming established. If everyone on Kauai would test their yard once a year, we could stop LFA from invading this island.
- HERE’S HOW: Testing is easy! Even kids can do it. It takes just about an hour and you can use materials likely already available at home (ziplock bag, chopstick, peanut butter). Simply smear a thin coat of peanut butter onto some chopsticks or popsicle sticks, place in your yard on the ground in shady areas near plants, wait one hour, collect the sticks and any ants into a ziplock bag, seal up tight and freeze for 24 hours, then mail it in to: KISC, 3730 Kuamoo Rd, Kapaa, HI 96746.
- Or, pick up a free test kit at any of our 6 local libraries.
- Click here to watch a video of how to test!
Help protect Kauai’s people, pets, agriculture, and ecosystem — test your yard for LFA today!