September is Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant month in the City and County of Honolulu, in Maui County and across the state. Several projects in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit (PCSU) are spearheading this little fire ant public awareness and community action campaign in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture (HDOA). This campaign was funded through a grant from the Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council.
Little fire ants (Wasmannia auropunctata) continue to spread on Hawaiʻi island, and every week they are intercepted in plants, cut flowers, fruit and other materials shipped from infested areas to neighbor islands. What’s scary is that not all goods from infested areas are inspected, and sometimes the ants just don’t come out of hiding when inspectors are present.
“These ants can show up anywhere, which means that we need the public’s help in finding and reporting them so that the team has a chance at eradicating them,” said Christy Martin, leader of the PCSU project called Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species. “The agencies involved have really limited staff on each island. UH PCSU projects including the Hawaiʻi Ant Lab, the Invasive Species Committees on each island, some of the Watershed Partnerships and many others are helping. This is a real team effort.”
Early detection key to eradication
Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month comes at an opportune time. Last week, the Oʻahu ant team (comprised of staff from PCSU projects Hawaiʻi Ant Lab, Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee, Oʻahu Army Natural Resource Program, Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species and agency staff from the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources and HDOA), conducted follow-up surveys after a year of treating the known infestations on a lot in Waimānalo, and twenty adjoining properties in Mililani Mauka. No little fire ants were found at either site, which means that they were either eradicated, or, more likely, they are at undetectable levels. This moves both eradication programs to the monitoring phase, where quarterly surveys will be conducted over the next three years. This protocol of 8 to 10 treatments over the course of a year, followed by three years of monitoring surveys was established by the Hawaiʻi Ant Lab and proved successful in the eradication of little fire ant from a Maui farm in 2009.
Early detection and eradication of little fire ants is the goal for uninfested areas and islands, and public awareness and involvement is necessary. “Last year, a homeowner in Mililani Mauka took the time to test his yard for little fire ants. He turned in the ant sample to HDOA for identification, and today that family and 19 of their neighbors are well on their way to being fire-ant free,” said Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee spokesperson Erin Bishop.
Work on two East Maui infestation sites is now underway and some of the work involves detective work combined with outreach.
“We are looking for a vehicle that had been parked for several months in the infestation zone,” said Adam Radford, operations manager with the Maui Invasive Species Committee. “We learned that it was moved to a yard in Hāna, which led us to discover a third infestation. The vehicle was once again moved, and its whereabouts are currently unknown. It is highly likely that the vehicle is still carrying and spreading little fire ant colonies to new locations.”
As part of Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month, the Maui Invasive Species Committee is planning a contest to engage Hāna residents in surveying their properties for the ant. The committee is also finishing work on a new little fire ant documentary which will air on all major network televisions stations in late September and early October. On Oʻahu, IHeartMedia radio stations will be airing public service announcements and is hosting a Spot the Ant contest with prizes. Additional activities are planned statewide.
“This is a great example of the work that the University of Hawaiʻi participates in to protect native species, public health, and our local economy,” said David Duffy, UH Department of Botany and PCSU unit leader. “PCSU provides a fiscal and administrative mechanism to link the scientific and knowledge resources of the University of Hawaiʻi with resource management agencies, but I think one of our greatest strengths is that PCSU projects bring fresh energy and creativity. We have a governor’s proclamation, a giant ant costume, a good logo, a website, Stop the Ant Facebook page, Instagram and a movie. I think these are things that would have been difficult for a state agency to pull off if they were working alone.”
For more information on little fire ants, or activities on each island during Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month, visit www.StopTheAnt.org.