Work begins to eradicate Little Fire Ant infestation in Waimanalo

Work began Thursday to eradicate an infestation of Little Fire Ants in Waimanalo.

A six-person crew, including staff from the Hawaii Ant Lab, Oahu Invasive Species Committee and Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture, began spraying a six-acre area, which includes a 3.5-acre infestation area and buffer zone.

The state is hoping the colony will take the bait to the queen.

“She keeps laying eggs and the workers keep taking care of them, but they never hatch,” explained Robert Curtiss, acting plant and pest control manager, HDOA. “As the workers start to get older, they start to die off, and the colony gets smaller and smaller and eventually it collapses on itself.”

Curtiss says the workers will spray and lay out the pesticide eight times over the next year, which should be enough for an infestation this size.

“In terms of the density of the number of ants out there, it’s probably a moderate-sized infestation compared to some places in Hilo on the Big Island,” he said.

There are large infestations of the stinging little pests on Hawaii Island, and that’s why the state is hoping to wipe out the invasive ant in Waimanalo.

The first Little Fire Ant discovered in Hawaii was found in March 1999 at a subdivision on Hawaii Island.

In March 2013, Dept. of Agriculture workers found a Little Fire Ant outside a Waimanalo nursery. The next month, survey crews mapped out the infestation to about four acres.

When asked if there was a quicker or more efficient way to fight the invasive pest, Curtiss responded, “Those types of methods, controlled burns and extreme habitat modification, such as if we went in with bulldozers and just bulldozed the whole area, they’re not our best option. These treatments are our best option.”

This past legislative session, a bill that would have given $900,000 to fight the Little Fire Ant died.

So how much is this operation going to cost taxpayers?

“In terms of just the chemicals that we need to control this and the equipment that we need, we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars,” Curtiss said. “When you add on the salary of all the different people and agencies, the numbers go up very, very quickly.”

With the eradication operation underway, the agriculture department will get a better estimate as to how much money it should ask from state lawmakers in next year’s session.

If you spot Little Fire Ants on your property or think you might have them, call the state’s pest hotline at 643-PEST (7378).

Photo: DLNR
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