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Little fire ant infestation found off Kaupakalua in Haiku

A pesky fire ant is pictured on a ruler. Maui residents recently reported an infestation of little fire ants in Haiku that invasive species officials hope to eradicate. Photo courtesy Maui Invasive Species Committee

The Maui News

An infestation of little fire ants that spread across four acres has been detected in Haiku, the Maui Invasive Species Committee announced Thursday.

Maui residents Janet Mercer and Patti Hawkins reported the ants to MISC in late September after returning home following several months away to discover tiny, orange ants in their yard and house. At first they tried to control the ants with liquid baits from the hardware store, but it didn’t work, and the couple got stung even inside their home.

“It was like a bee,” Hawkins said in a news release. “It kept going for 10 to 15 minutes or more after it stung. Then they would welt up.”

A friend suggested the pests might be little fire ants and that Hawkins should collect a sample. Hawkins put out some peanut butter and came back less than an hour later to find the sticks covered in ants. She brought a sample to a MISC employee who confirmed the insects were little fire ants.

MISC and the state Department of Agriculture have surveyed the couple’s home and surrounding properties. DOA has done trace-forward testing, which looks at places where potted plants or material had been moved from the infested area to see if any ants may have hitchhiked a ride. Based on their findings, the infestation is contained to four acres, but the source of the infestation is not known, MISC said. Given the spread, it’s likely that ants have been present for several years.

The population, located off Kaupakalua Road, will be eradicated, MISC said.

Little fire ants form supercolonies, effectively outcompeting other ant species, and take advantage of all possible habitats in trees and on the ground. While they prefer to be outside, once they are established they start to explore new environments — including those occupied by people.

The discovery of the Haiku infestation came just before Little Fire Ant Awareness Month in October, an annual event when Hawaii residents are encouraged to collect and submit samples of ants from their homes to find infestations of little fire ants and other invasive ants while they can still be controlled. Community efforts have led to the detection of 11 of 17 known infestations of little fire ants on Maui. Once detected, each infestation is treated for about one year, then monitored. There are only eight sites, including Kaupakalua, where little ants are still present and under active control.

“If people keep paying attention, and collecting and reporting suspect ants, we can stop the little fire ant from becoming established on Maui,” MISC Manager Adam Radford said. “The Hawaii Department of Agriculture is able to inspect incoming material for LFA and other pests, MISC crews conduct surveys, but public reporting is critical to finding these invasive ant populations and eliminating them.”

On Maui, funding from the County of Maui and the Hawaii Invasive Species Council supports control efforts.

Little fire ants have become widespread on Hawaii Island. Animals, hikers and hunters often leave the areas where the ants are established. When the ants invade yards and homes, they can blind pets.

MISC recommends collecting ants for identification at least once a year with the following steps:

• First, smear a tiny bit of peanut butter (or mayonnaise if peanut allergies are a concern) on several sticks, coffee stirrers or pieces of cardboard, and place them in shady places in the yard. Set a timer for 45 minutes.

• Next, after 45 minutes, collect the ants, place them in a plastic bag labeled with your name, address and contact information, and freeze them overnight.

• Lastly, mail them to your local Invasive Species Committee. On Maui, send them to MISC, P.O. Box 983, Makawao, HI 96768.

For more information, visit stoptheant.org or contact MISC at 573-6472 or miscants@hawaii.edu. Reports can also be submitted through 643PEST.org.

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