By Maui Now Staff
The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture today confirmed that an invasive stinging ant called the little fire ant (LFA) has spread from Hawaiʻi Island to Oʻahu and Maui.
Agricultural officials say a customer at a garden shop on Maui reported the suspicious ant to the Maui Invasive Species Committee on Dec. 23.
Specimens were sent to entomologists with the state Department of Agriculture, who confirmed the identification as that of the little fire ant.
Three days later, HDOA entomologists surveyed several nurseries and stores and found LFA infestations on hāpuʻu tree ferns at several garden shops on Oʻahu and at another store on Maui.
Officials with the state Department of Agriculture say all infested hāpuʻu were contained and the areas secured.
On Dec. 27, HDOA staff revisited the stores and treated the areas with pesticides, the announcement said.
The HDOA believes the infested hāpuʻu originated on Hawaiʻi Island. The last shipment from the suspected nursery was made to Oʻahu and Maui on Dec. 11.
The HDOA is advising those who recently purchased hāpuʻu logs or planters to place them in a plastic or garbage bag and seal it securely. They should also contact their nearest HDOA office as soon as possible.
Due to the holiday, the public is asked to leave a message for staff who will respond as soon as they are able. The Maui contact phone number is: (808) 872-3848. On Oʻahu, reports should be made to the Pest Hotline at 643-PEST (7378).
“It is important that those who have recently purchased hāpuʻu which may be infested with little fire ants to help contain the infestation and contact us as soon as possible,” said Neil Reimer, administrator of HDOA’s Plant Industry Division in a press release. “Through past experience, we know we can contain an infestation if we find it in its early stages,” he said.
Originally from South America, agricultural officials say LFA is considered among the world’s worst invasive species. They are described as 1/16th of an inch long and pale orange in color.
Hawaiʻi Agricultural officials say LFA move slowly, unlike the tropical fire ant which is already established in Hawaiʻi. LFA can produce painful stings and large red welts and may cause blindness in pets, officials said.
“They can build up very large colonies on the ground, in trees and other vegetation and completely overrun a property. They will also freely move into homes,” according to information from the HDOA.
The first detection of LFA in Hawaii was in the Puna area in 1999. A decade later, in October 2009, LFA was detected on a farm in Waiheʻe, Maui.
“Eradication efforts at that site appear to have contained the infestation, which is being continually monitored. HDOA staff also trained Maui County employees, MISC and private pest control operators on Maui to assist in recognizing and reporting possible infestations on the island. MISC is also assisting HDOA in conducting surveys at high-risk areas on Maui,” according to information from the HDOA.