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Kapalua little fire ant infestation appears under control

The most recent little fire ant infestation in Kapalua in November appears to be under control as the ant population has not spread to nearby areas, an official with the Maui Invasive Species Committee said Wednesday.

Lissa Fox Strohecker, public relations and education specialist for MISC, said that the 12-acre spot near the shoreline in Kapalua has been treated twice since the discovery late last year. It is the second-largest infestation of little fire ants detected on Maui, and efforts to control the infestation began in January.

The stinging ants were found in an area easier to treat than other colonies on Maui, which may have containment and access issues, Strohecker said.

Last month, MISC held a meeting in nearby Napili to discuss the infestation with the public, which it routinely does when an infestation is discovered. The little fire ant population extended to the shoreline and a separate and smaller infestation was found in a nearby gulch used to dump green waste.

There also was a concern because the infestation was close to the largest active coastal seabird nesting colony on Maui at Hawea Point. However, no little fire ants were found in the seabird colony, Strohecker said.

The little fire ant is a highly invasive insect from South America that was first detected on the Big Island in 1999. The ants were first discovered on Maui in 2009 and have been found on Kauai and Oahu. The stinging ant threatens agriculture, tourism, human health and the environment of communities across Hawaii, MISC has said.

Currently, there are a handful of little fire ant populations on Maui. The first infestation was found in Waihee in 2009, then Nahiku in 2014 and in Huelo in 2015. The infestations are localized. The ants are not known to be present on Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe, according to the Hawaii Invasive Species Council.

The Hawaii Ant Lab based in Hilo is leading the eradication effort with assistance from MISC. Generally, regular surveys for the ants are performed and treatments done every six weeks for up to a year and a half, Strohecker said

“It’s really easy to kill 99 percent of the ants,” but total eradication is difficult because the ants live in trees and can nest anywhere, she said. While an easy solution could be to cut down a tree to eliminate a nest, she said that sometimes property owners want to keep the trees so treatment has to be done in the trees, she said.

The little fire ants also are difficult to eradicate compared to other ants because they have more queens per ant worker or colony than other types of ants. To stop the ant from multiplying, the egg-laying queen needs to be killed, and the queen does not leave the nest unless totally necessary, Strohecker said.

The eradication method involves worker ants taking the ant-toxic bait back to the queen, she said.

Strohecker urges members of the public to be vigilant and to monitor items that come from the Big Island. She said that MISC will have test kits available at various community events.

For more information, see mauiinvasive.org.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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