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Little fire ants found at Lahainaluna

Since the school has occasional plant sales, buyers should check yards

Little fire ants climb up a hibiscus. An infestation of ants was found at Lahainaluna High School. Maui Invasive Species Committee photo

The Maui News

A “relatively small infestation” of little fire ants was identified and confirmed at Lahainaluna High School and is being treated while posing little risk to the community, the Maui Invasive Species Committee reported Tuesday.

This was the first infestation of the invasive stinging ants on a school campus on Maui. The ants were found on a little over a quarter acre and limited to potted plants brought to the campus several years ago as part of the school’s agriculture program.

School 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 already have occurred, and the next treatment is scheduled for mid-June with treatments continuing for one year, MISC said.

“Once identified, this site posed little risk to the community and is the smallest infestation detected on Maui in recent years,” MISC said in a news release. “The infested material has been quarantined on-site since detection.”

MISC Manager Adam Radford lauded “proactive efforts” by school staff in recognizing the little fire ants and submitting a sample leading to early detection.

“Finding them early is the key to successful and timely eradication,” he said.

The school conducts occasional plant sales, including the Spring Plant Sale in May 2019 at the Lahaina Cannery Mall and another plant sale on campus in November 2019. There is a chance that plants infested with the little fire ants 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, acting principal of Lahainaluna.

This is the 16th little fire ant detected site on Maui. Seven sites are being actively treated. The remaining nine sites are regularly surveyed to ensure the ants have been eradicated.

The only other known site in 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 the monitoring phase, and there is no known link between the Lahainaluna infestation and the one in Kapalua, MISC said.

Without human involvement, little fire ants spread slowly, particularly in dry arid regions because 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.

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 the little fire ants 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, P.O. Box 983, Makawao 96768, including contact information.

Samples also can be mailed to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture at 635 Mua St, Kahului 96732.

For more information, call 573-MISC (6472) or go to stoptheant.org.

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