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Little fire ants a dangerous threat

By Staff | Mar 11, 2010

The county and environmental organizations are taking a new, tiny pest on Maui very seriously.

Residents are urged to help them by keeping an eye out for little fire ants on the island.

“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 Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) Public Relations and Education Specialist Lisa Fox.

Residents can learn about the hard-stinging invasive species on Thursday, March 18, at the Hannibal Tavares Community Center, when the Friends of Haleakala National Park present “Sting Operation — Little Fire Ants on Maui” at 7 p.m.

The USGS Pacific Basin Information Node and MISC will discuss the current situation with the little fire ant invasion on Maui, as well as how to prevent other invasive, island-hopping pests. The program is free and open to the public; for more information, visit fhnp.org and reportapest.org.

In addition, last week the county Little Fire Ant Working Group reported that little fire ant information posters will be posted on all Maui Buses. Almost 200,000 people ride the Maui Bus each month, with more than 6,500 riders each day.

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

“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.”

Fox said other educational tools are being developed, including a video, public service announcements, training sessions for organizations, a website and classroom presentations for school kids.

Fox knows that residents will play a crucial role in destroying these pests first discovered in Waihee in October 2009.

“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.”

Although only 1/16th of an inch in length and slow-moving, little fire ants pack a powerful sting. They live in gigantic colonies and infest plants and trees.

The state Department of Agriculture explained, “The ants climb up into plants of all sizes, including trees. They drop off easily when the plants are disturbed, and they can rain down on you in large numbers when you are pruning branches, harvesting fruit or picking flowers. Some orchard workers in East Hawaii have quit their jobs because of this.”

Let’s find and kill little fire ants on Maui.

“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.”

For more information, visit www.mauicounty.gov (under the "Mayor" tab, select “Environmental Program” then “Invasive Species”) or call county Environmental Coordinator Kuhea Paracuelles at 270-8299.