The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has confirmed that an invasive stinging ant called the Little Fire Ant, or LFA, has spread from Hawaii Island to Oahu and Maui.
On Dec. 23, a customer at garden shop on Maui reported a suspicious ant to the Maui Invasive Species Committee, which sent the specimens to HDOA entomologists who confirmed the identification of LFA.
On Dec. 26, HDOA entomologists surveyed several nurseries and stores and found LFA infestations on hapuu, or Hawaiian tree fern, at several garden shops on Oahu and at another Maui store. All infested hapuu were contained and the areas secured.
On Dec. 27, state agriculture staff revisited the stores and treated the areas with pesticides. Through trace-back and trace-forward efforts, HDOA believes the infested hapuu originated on Hawaii Island and products from that nursery have been ordered for treatment prior to shipping. The last shipment was made to Oahu and Maui on Dec. 11. Surveys and treatment will continue by HDOA and MISC staff.
The state Department of Agriculture is advising those who recently purchased hapuu logs or planters to contain the logs by placing them in a plastic or garbage bag and seal it securely. They should contact their nearest HDOA office as soon as possible. Due to the holiday, please leave a message and staff will respond as soon as they are able.
Maui – (808) 872-3848
Oahu – PEST HOTLINE – 643-PEST (7378). This is also a toll-free number for neighbor islands.
"It is important that those who have recently purchased hapuu which may be infested with little fire ants to help contain the infestation and contact us as soon as possible," said Dr. Neil Reimer, administrator of HDOA's Plant Industry Division. "Through past experience, we know we can contain an infestation if we find it in its early stages."
Originally from South America, LFA is considered among the world’s worst invasive species.
LFA are tiny ants, measuring 1/16th inch long, are pale orange in color and move slowly. LFA move slowly, unlike the Tropical Fire Ant which is established in Hawaii, move quickly and are larger with a larger head in proportion to its body. LFA can produce painful stings and large red welts and may cause blindness in pets. They can build up very large colonies on the ground, in trees and other vegetation and completely overrun a property. They will also freely move into homes.
The first detection of LFA in Hawaii was in the Puna area in 1999. Surveys determined that LFA appeared to have been on the east side for several years prior to their initial detection and was widely distributed in Puna. Attention was then focused on controlling ant populations and preventing the spread to non-infested areas on the island and to other islands.
In October 2009, LFA was detected on a farm in Waihee, Maui. Eradication efforts at that site appear to have contained the infestation, which is being continually monitored. HDOA staff also trained Maui County employees, MISC and private pest control operators on Maui to assist in recognizing and reporting possible infestations on the island. MISC is also assisting HDOA in conducting surveys at high-risk areas on Maui.