Maui’s Latest Little Fire Ant Infestation Discussed
The latest little fire ant infestation on Maui was discussed at a community meeting last night in Waiheʻe. The Waiheʻe infestation was discovered in late August after a resident reported being stung on her neck and under her collar while working near fruit trees. Initial surveys indicate that the little fire ants are present on three properties covering four to five acres.
Little fire ants (Wasmannia auropunctata) were also detected next to the Waiheʻe river, raising concerns that the ants may have moved downstream; however, preliminary riverside surveys below the infestation zone did not detect any infestation.
This infestation is the fourteenth detection of little fire ants on the Valley Isle since 2009 and the second detection on Maui this year, following the April detection in the Happy Valley neighborhood of Wailuku.
The Maui Invasive Species Committee is actively treating five sites; the Waiheʻe Valley site will be the sixth. After undergoing a rigorous treatment regimen, little fire ants are thought to be eliminated from other sites, though MISC continues to survey to ensure they are gone.
The source of the infestation is unknown at this time and there is no known connection between this one and a previously-infested site at a farm in Waiheʻe. Based on the size of the new infestation, experts estimate little fire ants have been present for five or more years.
Area residents who have encountered stinging ants—particularly those who have been stung on their neck and upper body after working with or under vegetation – are urged to report suspect ants by contacting either the Maui Invasive Species Committee at 573-MISC (6472), the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture on Maui at 873-3080, or online at 643PEST.org.
The little fire ant has been called one of the 100 worst invasive species globally (IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group). They were first detected on Hawaiʻi Island in 1999 and Maui in 2009. Little fire ants reach incredible densities (80 million ants per acre) and outcompete many other insects and small vertebrates.
LFA live in trees as well as on the ground. People often discover the ants by brushing against heavily-infested bushes or in windy conditions when the ants fall off plants or trees. Unsuspecting victims of the “ant rain” are left with painful stings and animals can be blinded.
On Hawai‘i Island, little fire ants are now widespread. People describe being at their “wit’s end” and unable to take their keiki to the places they learned to fish, hunt, surf, and hike. Invasive species experts say that “Left unchecked, this species will affect Maui’s environment, and agriculture, and forever change our quality of life.”