WAILUKU - An infestation of little fire ants on Maui has been eradicated, the state Department of Agriculture announced Thursday.
The department credited the success to its rapid response and the development of innovative pest control methods.
The ants (Wasmannia auropunctata) can deliver a painful sting. They were discovered in October on a Waihee farm, and the Agriculture Department launched what it said was an "aggressive response to survey, contain and treat the infestation."
The department obtained a special permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use an experimental ant bait developed by scientist Cas Vanderwoude, with the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The new bait provided an alternative to ground treatments to combat the pest, and it allowed the ants to be attacked in trees and vegetation where they nest. The Waihee area had been treated monthly with the ant bait and since February no little fire ants have been detected at the site of the infestation.
Monitoring will continue for at least another year, the department said.
"We have been routinely monitoring the area, and we are confident that the ants have been eradicated on the property," said Neil Reimer, manager of the department's Plant Pest Control Branch. "It's pretty clear that without the development of the experimental bait, we would not have been able to eradicate this pest so quickly, if at all."
Board of Agriculture Chairwoman Sandra Lee Kunimoto said the eradication was successful in part because the ants were detected early.
"This incident serves as an example of why early detection is so important if we are to have any chance of eradicating a pest. We need everyone to be on the lookout for potentially invasive species and, most importantly, to report it to us as soon as possible so appropriate action may be taken to minimize the impact to Hawaii's agriculture sector and environment," she said.
County, state and federal agencies and the Maui Invasive Species Committee are working together to educate the public about the ant and survey risk areas on Maui.
So far, the ant has been found at no other location on Maui, the department said.
More information on the invasive pest can be found online at hawaii.gov/hdoa/pi/ppc/npa-1/npa99-02-lfireant.pdf.
Originally from South America, the little fire ant is considered among the world's worst invasive species. They measure only one-sixteenth of an inch long and are pale orange. They move slowly, unlike the tropical fire ant, which already is established in Hawaii. The tropical fire ant moves quickly, is larger and has a larger head in proportion to its body.
The little fire ants can produce painful stings and leave large red welts. They can cause blindness in pets. They can build up large colonies on the ground and in trees and vegetation.
Maui residents who suspect they have little fire ants should call the state's pest hot line at 643-7378. The number is toll free on all islands.
The first detection of little fire ants in Hawaii was on the Big Island in 1999.