Maui News

Invasive Little Fire Ants Detected Lahainaluna High School Campus

May 5, 2020, 2:19 PM HST
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Little Fire Ant infestation, Waiheʻe, Maui. PC: Maui Invasive Species Committee.

The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture and Maui Invasive Species Committee have confirmed a report of little fire ants on the campus of Lahainaluna High School in West Maui.

This is the first detection of the invasive little fire ants at a school in Maui County.  According to the committee, schools on Hawaiʻi Island are burdened with addressing the stinging ants on school grounds.

“Proactive efforts on the part of the Lahainaluna staff – in recognizing little fire ants and submitting a sample – resulted in early detection of a relatively small infestation. Finding them early is the key to successful and timely eradication,” said MISC manager, Adam Radford.

Based on initial inspection, the infestation is just over one-quarter of an acre and limited to a section of potted plants brought to the campus several years ago as part of the school’s agriculture program. Staff suspected little fire ants were present in December and collected and submitted a sample of the pests to the Maui Invasive Species Committee in January. Two comprehensive treatments of the infestation have already occurred. The next treatment is scheduled for mid-June and treatments will continue for one year.

Once identified, this site posed little risk to the community and is the smallest infestation detected on Maui in recent years. The infested material has been quarantined on-site since detection. Without human involvement, little fire ants spread slowly, particularly in dry arid regions as the ants are a rainforest species native to South America. Moving soil and plants that have little fire ants are how they are able to spread quickly over large distances.

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The school conducts occasional plant sales. The Spring Plant Sale was held in May 2019, at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. Another plant sale was held on campus in November of 2019.  There is a chance that Infested plants were sold.  “I encourage anyone who may have recently purchased plants from Lahainaluna High School, to test your yards or garden areas,” says Jeri Dean, TA Acting Principal of Lahainaluna.

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Community assistance – testing for little fire ants and reporting stinging ants – have led to the majority LFA detections on Maui.

MISC recommends that Maui residents survey their yards for little fire ants once per year. Additionally, quarantine new plants, mulch, or soil before planting or distributing throughout the property and test for little fire ants. Moving construction equipment and building material is an additional vector for LFA throughout the state. Any material stored outside for months or more should be tested.

Small red ants, particularly those that fall from overhanging vegetation, stinging people on the back of the neck, warrant immediate collection and reporting. Ant samples can be collected for identification by smearing a thin layer of peanut butter on a stick and leaving it outside near where ants are found for 45 minutes.  Bag the sample and place it in a freezer for 24 hours, then mail the sample to the Maui Invasive Species Committee at PO Box 983, Makawao, HI 96768, including contact information. Samples can also be mailed to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture at 635 Mua St, Kahului, 96732. If you have questions, please call 573-MISC (6472).

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This latest detection brings the total number of infestation sites on the Valley Isle to 16. Seven sites are being actively treated.  The remaining nine sites are regularly surveyed to ensure the ants have been eradicated at those locations.

The only other known site on West Maui is in Kapalua. Originally covering 12 acres, the stinging ants were reported by an area resident in 2016. The Kapalua site is now in a monitoring phase and there is no known link between the Lahainaluna infestation and the one in Kapalua.

Visit stoptheant.org to find out more information on collecting samples of ants and the status of LFA on Maui and throughout the state.

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