Ants can be found virtually everywhere. They are among the most dominant organisms on earth, making up between 10-15% of the entire animal biomass in most ecosystems on land. Ants are highly visible social insects in cities and in homes, and few kitchens or picnics in Hawai`i are totally free of these persistent creatures.
Yet, there are no species of ants that are native to the Hawaiian Islands. People inadvertently brought all of the 40+ species in Hawai`i to the islands within the last 200 years. In fact, although we have many species of native, solitary bees and wasps, there are zero native social insects in the Hawaiian Islands. Our populations of honeybees, yellowjackets, paper wasps, termites, and ants are all legacies of recent human travel and commerce.
A handful of ant species are known as "tramp" ants. Tramp ants have the proven ability to hitchhike with human travel and establish colonies in new regions all over the globe. These ants generally are omnivores--they will eat almost anything. Several species are well established in Hawai`i, including the big-headed ant, the Argentine ant, the long-legged ant, and the tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata).
Some of these ants protect and tend aphids and mealybugs, which can be agricultural pests, for their carbohydrate-rich honeydew secretions. This behavior boosts densities of the pests. Studies have shown tramp ants have severe negative impacts on native Hawaiian insects and spiders, plants, and entire ecosystems.
In 1999, another tramp ant was discovered on the Big Island. The little fire ant, Wasmannia auropunctata, native to South America, is already a serious introduced pest in New Caledonia, Gabon, and the Galapagos Islands. It probably arrived in Hawai`i in the soil of potted plants, and it is now known from approximately twenty locations on the Big Island. Studies of this ant in other regions forewarn us of the potential for negative impacts in Hawai`i. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global group of over one hundred science and policy experts, considers Wasmannia auropunctata one of the 100 worst pest species in the world. Scientists in Hawai`i believe there is a good chance to contain or even eradicate this ant if we act quickly to understand its distribution.
This is where you come in, with AntWatch Hawai`i. This website hosts all of the information you will need to learn more about ants in Hawai`i, including ways to study and identify them, map their locations, and submit to data to experts with the tools to do something about them.
Contact AntWatch Hawai`i