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Little fire ants take a bite out of Kapalua

By Staff | Dec 1, 2016

This Hawaii Department of Agriculture photo shows a comparison of the size of the little fire ant, which measures just 1/16 of an inch, to the bigger tropical fire ant, which creates much less of a problem.

“The Invasion of Little Fire Ants (LFA) in Kapalua” is not the title of a B-rated horror flick; it’s the topic of a recent press release issued by the Maui Invasive Species Committee, and it’s no laughing matter.

On Nov. 2, after a Kapalua resident returned a test kit to the Department of Agriculture, LFA were detected.

In an interview with the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) public relations and education specialist, Lissa Strohecker, the Lahaina News learned:

“Our crew spent almost a week out there. We collected 2,000 samples from there across 30 acres. It’s pretty alarming. I think what’s concerning is the amount of time that it’s been there at least five years. It’s had a lot of opportunity to spread.”

How the nano-pests infested the 12-acre area is anybody’s guess.

“The ants can get on people’s cars, and on pallets and on furniture; but the most likely source, in Kapalua, is landscaping,” she said, through the application of contaminated mulch and compost from green waste drop-off locations, for instance.

Native to South and Central America, the Puna district on the Big Island suffered the onslaught of the first invasion in 1999; and, exponentially, their armies have expanded to Hilo, Waipio, Honokaa and Kona.

Other super colonies (as they are referred to) have overtaken limited areas on the islands of Kaua’i and Oahu and have been identified on Maui in Nahiku, Huelo and Waihee.

Stoptheant.org describes the LFA as “one of the worst invasive species imaginable in Hawaii.”

Strohecker said point blank, “There is nothing known in Hawaii that will stop it.”

Life-long Big Island resident Leah Gouker is featured in the documentary posted on the website. She warned: “It is absolutely essential that any infestation on Maui is completely eradicated immediately. This will require an inter-agency collaborative effort, with federal, state and local resources along with public engagement… Maui must act now or face the lifestyle changes that we have endured on the Big Island.

Detection is the key.

“If you are getting stung on the neck or torso, that ‘s an indication. A lot of times people won’t even see what’s stinging them.”

Unlike the tropical fire ants we have lived with in Hawaii for years, the LFA live in trees and plants, are one color and are tiny, tiny, tiny (see image above).

“It is so hard to determine what is small when you’re looking at ants. They are all technically small,” Strohecker observed.

The news, fortunately, is not all bad.

“It will be relatively easy. It’s big, but it’s managed landscape (in Kapalua). It’s a fair amount of work; it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take several years. But we’ll be able to get rid of it,” she advised.

The MISC is urging the public to remain vigilant.

“Most of the infestation of the LFA are found by the community. People knowing what to look for is invaluable. We can’t look everywhere for little ants, so we need the eyes of the community.”

Test kits are available at the Lahaina Public Library or through the stoptheant.org website.

It’s simple. Place some peanut butter on the end of a chopstick and put it in the yard for about an hour. Ants will come. Doesn’t mean that it is the LFA, but it will attract ants. Freeze overnight, and the next morning put in an envelope and mail to the MISC or the Maui Branch of Hawaii Department of Agriculture for identification.

More information is available at littlefireants.com.