Hilo beach park to get fire ant treatment, Oahu on alert

The Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation will close Hilo’s Richardson Ocean Park so maintenance crews can apply a second round of baiting treatments designed to combat fire ant infestations.

Hawaii Island has been dealing with the little fire ant infestation for several years, to the point where the tiny creatures go up to the trees and, with the winds blowing, can rain down on unsuspecting passersby.

“The ants were fairly widespread along the coastal area of the park,” said Jason Armstrong with Hawaii County parks department. “We had received several complaints of people being bitten in this area. Also, we had complaints of workers being bitten as well.”

The closure is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 27, weather permitting, and reopen at 7 a.m. the following morning. Signs will be posted starting Monday, March 24, to inform park patrons of the temporary shutdown.

The Department of Parks and Recreation has partnered with the University of Hawaii to establish an effective strategy for reducing fire ant colonies at Hawaii County parks. Fire ant populations at Richardson Ocean Park decreased by more than 50 percent following the placement of nontoxic baited vials at the park in mid-January. Now, scientists with The Ant Lab on the Big Island are using a new type of bait that they’re hoping will be even more effective.

“We want to find the most effective protocol possible and utilize that in various Hawaii county beach parks to address this problem,” Armstrong said.

It’s a problem that the state Dept. of Agriculture is hoping to avoid on Oahu. Officials believe it’s not a bad problem now — the number of infestations on Oahu remains at 20 — but there’s fear that Little Fire Ants can easily get out of control.

“We’ve got the known populations under control and we’re heavily monitoring those so that looks good, but the gut says there’s more out there,” said Darcy Oishi, Dept. of Agriculture plant pest control manager.

Oishi says the general public does not seem to be taking the little fire ant problem serious enough. “It’s too easy for people to think this is just another ant the state is making a big deal of just another ant this is not another ant,” he said.

There’s a simple test to see if you have Little Fire Ants. Put out a chopstick with peanut butter on it, wait for 45 minutes until some ants get stuck on it, then put the whole thing in a bag, freeze it and contact the state agriculture department. It’ll tell you where to send the bag so it can test your sample and see if you do indeed have Little Fire Ants.

For more information on Little Fire Ants and how to report them, click here.

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