Maui Residents Urged to Check Ferns for Little Fire Ants

January 9, 2014, 4:50 PM HST · Updated January 14, 11:50 AM
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File photo by Wendy Osher.

File photo by Wendy Osher.

By Maui Now Staff

The County of Maui, Office of the Mayor in partnership with the state Department of Agriculture issued an urgent advisory this afternoon asking the public to check hāpuʻu tree ferns purchased on Maui over the last 12 months for little fire ants (aka electric ants).

The invasive pest was found at a garden shop on Maui on Dec. 23, 2013, but officials now say, “further investigation has shown that the ants may have been coming over on interisland shipments to Maui for the past year.”

In a press release statement issued this afternoon, Mayor Alan Arakawa said:

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“This is a serious matter. These ants can wreak havoc on a community. Their stings can cause a lot of pain and even blind your pets if you are not careful. We need to help the Department of Agriculture to identify possible infestation sites so that they can contain the situation. We don’t want another invasive species on our island if we can help it.”

Agricultural officials believe the ants spread to Maui from Hawaiʻi Island, and have since found little fire ant infestations on hāpuʻu tree ferns at several garden shops on Oʻahu and at another store on Maui.

According to information released by the mayor, the Department of Agriculture reportedly traced the invasive ants back to hāpuʻu shipments at the Lowe’s and Home Depot stores on Maui. Both stores are located in Kahului.

“Department officials are asking that any Maui resident who purchased hāpuʻu from either store over the last 12 months to check their fern and the area where it is located for ants,” officials said in the announcement.

Officials suggest this be done by carrying out the following steps:

  • Apply peanut butter to a chopstick, and push the stick into the fern on the ground nearby.
  • If ants are seen on the chopstick, put the stick in a plastic bag along with any ants that may have accumulated, and place the bag in the freezer.
  • Call the Department of Agriculture at (808) 872-3843 872-3848 and an inspector will be sent to your residence for further investigation. If needed crews will apply treatment to rid the area of ants. (Or contact the Maui Invasive Species Committee at 573-6472.)

County officials remind the public that the little fire ant is no more than 1/16 of an inch in length and should not be confused with the larger, tropical fire ant that has already established itself on Maui.

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