By Nina Wu
So the last we heard, the invasive Little Fire Ants were in Mililani Mauka.
But keep your guard up, because who knows where they'll turn up next?
They might turn up in your neighborhood. When they were discovered in Waimanalo during the summer, only Waimanalo folks were concerned. As of now, the samples coming in (about 10 per week) are from Mililani. It's possible they may have gone undetected in Mililani for a few years.
The Little Fire Ants, originally from South America, not only deliver a painful sting, but can blind animals and reduce biodiversity. If these ants become established in Hawaii, they would be Hawaii's most devastating pest. Nesting seabirds and sea turtle hatchlings are also under threat. We do not want these to be established on our island. Small populations can still be eradicated if detected early enough.
Not to be confused with the tropical fire ant, the Little Fire Ant is half the size (one-sixtheenth of an inch or about as long as the width of a penny). For more information, visit lfa-hawaii.org.
The Little Fire Ants were first discovered in Puna in 1999 and have since spread, hidden in plants, logs, green waste, gravel and sometimes, even cars. In December 2013, they were discovered in hapuu logs at nurseries and garden shops on Oahu and Maui, and in landscaping on Lanai. Most of the hapuu sold to the public remain unaccounted for.
What can you do about it?
Test your home and yard. You can do this by placing a thin smear of peanut butter on disposable chopsticks - place them every few feet in and around plants in your yard, garden and lanai. Focus on shady, moist areas, bottoms of pots and where plants' leaves meet the stem. Leave the sticks in place for one hour during the cool part of the day. Check the sticks without moving them, and collect if:
>> Ants are uniformly orange/red and very small.
>> If you're unsure about the ants.
As of right now, the Department of Agriculture is responding to every sample sent in. Better to have plenty of samples that turn out not to be Little Fire Ants than to miss opportunities to detect and eradicate them. We need to remain vigilant.
Immediately report any suspected LFA to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture hotline 643-PEST.