Sting Operation: Stop the Little Fire Ant!

March 2, 2010, 10:59 AM HST · Updated March 2, 11:03 AM
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The county is hoping to raise public awareness about an invasive species by placing informational posters on all Maui Buses.  The Little Fire Ant Working Group was formed by Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares last fall, following the discovery of the stinging ants on the Valley Isle.

Click to enlarge. Image Courtesy County of Maui.

“The goal is to spread this information faster than the ants spread themselves,” said Mayor Tavares.

According to Transportation Director Don Medeiros and Deputy Director Wayne Boteilho, nearly 200,000 people ride the Maui Bus each month, with over 6,500 daily boardings.

“This invasive species is a significant threat, and it’s important that we stay focused on early detection. A little awareness goes a long way, and by educating and alerting people we have a chance of not just keeping this situation under control, but eradicating the ants from our island,” said Tavares.

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The eye-catching posters were designed by the Maui Invasive Species Committee PR and Educational Specialist Lissa Fox.

According to Fox, the bus posters are part of a bigger outreach program that is in development, including a video, public service announcements, training for targeted public groups, posting of website content, and classroom education.

“If we are to prevent the establishment of the Little Fire Ant on Maui, we absolutely need the help of people looking in their backyards, at their workplaces, schools, everywhere,” said Fox.

“In other campaigns to detect these ants, up to 90-percent of the infestations were reported by members of the public. We’re fortunate to have this collaboration between the County, MISC and Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA). By combining our efforts we stand a chance of stopping the Little Fire Ant before it gets out of control,” said Fox.

Tavares convened the working group after the State Department of Agriculture announced the detection of a colony contained to one-half acre of land in Waihee in early October 2009. The group is comprised of representatives from the Office of the Mayor, Maui Invasive Species Committee, U.S. Geological Survey, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tri-Isle RC&D and the USGS-Pacific Basin Information Node.

Although only 1/16th of an inch in length and slow-moving, the stinging Little Fire Ant has the potential to cause damaging effects if left uncontrolled. Because they form massive super-colonies and don’t hang on well, brushing up against an infested plant or shaking the branches of a tree can bring an unpleasant surprise.

“HDOA is successfully controlling the only known infestation on Maui, but resource professionals believe the Little Fire Ant exists elsewhere on our island, silently growing and expanding undetected,” Fox said. “If populations of the Little Fire Ant go undetected, the lifestyle we enjoy in Hawaii will change. Stinging ants raining down on us is not something we want to learn to live with. Agriculture, tourism and the environment will all be affected.”

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Information courtesy County of Maui)

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