Members of the public and the Kihei Community Association (KCA) heard a discouraging word from Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) Spokesperson and Field Investigator Abe Vandenberg on Tuesday night, March 18--Little Fire Ants (LFA) and coqui frogs still pose a threat to Maui agriculture and the island's tourism economy. Only community vigilance can protect our island from the LFA infestations now facing Hawai'i County.
Vandenberg urges Maui homeowners and businesses to test all new plants, be on the lookout for ants or ant bites, and encourage local nurseries to become certified as a "Little Fire Ant-Free Business" through MISC.
"The simple chopstick coated with a thin film of peanut butter (with added sugar works best) and placed near a plant will draw out the illusive LFAs within half an hour," said Vandenberg. Once the chopstick becomes "infested," put it in a zip-lock baggie and place it in the freezer to kill the ants. Then call MISC and they will investigate how the ants got there and will kill the colony.
Maui Invasive Species Committee Field Investigator Abe Vandenberg said only community vigilance can protect our island from the Little Fire Ant infestations now facing Hawai‘i County.
Little Fire Ants (Wasmannia auropunctata) came to Hawai'i Island in 1999 and have been unwittingly transported to all population centers. In 2009, one acre of Maui became infested.
Eradication is exceedingly difficult because of the LFAs' ability to produce multiple queens in one mega-colony. They live in trees, so spraying insecticide thoroughly between branches and up and under the tree canopy is challenging. Now MISC recommends that consumers test all plant materials from Hawai'i Island on receipt--including cut flowers and ti leaves. Because LFAs also invade beach parks, homes and autos, any container or package arriving from Hawai'i County should be carefully inspected for hidden ants.
LFAs like damp environments and nest in trees, where they farm aphids, mealy bugs and scale for the sugary sap they produce. These sucking insects damage the tree or plant. So crops are at risk as well as ag workers, farm workers and pets. About one-third the size of our big "red ants," and a uniform orange-red color, LFAs are slower than familiar Maui ants, and "rain down" on people and animals when their tree habitat is disturbed. Burning, itching bites that linger several days and resemble a rash are sometimes the first indication of an infestation.
Hawai'i Island also lost the battle on coqui frogs, and now Maui_s Maliko Gulch is full of noisy frogs hiding in every crack and crevice.
KCA members asked if MISC is getting support for its important inspection and intervention work. Vandenberg said the Maui County Council and Mayor Alan Arakawa are very supportive. "They_re doing a lot better than other counties."
Nevertheless, state budgets are tight, and the MISC staff of nine is insufficient to protect our island from all the invasive species that threaten our economy, like the banana bunchy top virus, greenhouse frogs, kudzu, miconia and strawberry guava.
In recent years, dogs have been trained to sniff out ant nests, but each animal costs $60,000 to train and maintain. The state Legislature is working on a bill to support mitigation and containment of LFAs, but Vandenberg stressed that the Maui community is the island's best defense against alien species.
"If you can spot them, we can stop them," he said. "Informed citizens and getting the word out is our best defense."
For further information--to share with your friends, family and neighbors--visit HawaiiInvasiveSpecies.org/iscs/misc and www.fireantfreemaui.org.
To report a possible LFA infestation, call MISC on weekdays at 573-6475.
The next KCA meeting will be held Tuesday, April 15, in the Kihei Charter School auditorium. For more information, visit www.gokihei.org.