Invasive Fire Ant Found at Farm in Waihee, Maui

October 15, 2009, 4:06 PM HST · Updated October 15, 4:06 PM
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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.

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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.

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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)

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