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Measure in state Legislature targets alien little fire ants

By Sam Eifling

Associated Press


Of all the ants in all the world, Hawaii had to get bitten by this one.

Hawaii lawmakers on Monday advanced a bill aiming to study and kill the little fire ant, a hard-stinging pipsqueak that threatens the state's economy and ecology.

House Bill 2469 would provide more than $500,000 toward coordinating efforts to corral and destroy the little fire ant. It includes money to pay for trained dogs to sniff out the tiny pests and for public outreach.

At 1/16th of an inch long, the copper-colored ant does not cut a formidable figure. But since it first landed on Hawaii island 15 years ago, possibly as a stowaway on a potted plant from Florida, the ant has spread on the Big Island and has popped up on Maui, Oahu and Kauai.

Of the perhaps 30,000 species of ants on Earth, only six are considered "really nasty," said Cas Vanderwoude, the research manager of the Hawaii Ant Lab at the University of Hawaii. Of those six, he said, the little fire ant poses the greatest potential threat to Hawaii.

"Our lifestyle and climate just suit this animal down to a T," he said. "If I was a little fire ant and wanted to go on vacation, I'd come to Hawaii."

The ants have proved onerous for several reasons, Vanderwoude said. They live in trees, where they infest crops and bite agricultural workers. They also live on the ground, where they attack people and pets, perhaps partially blinding cats and dogs by stinging their eyes. A single square foot of infested ground can contain 2,000 ants.

The ants travel between islands by hitching rides on crops and propagated plants. That threatens to undermine agricultural exchange among the islands and beyond. The ants also drive away insects, birds, lizards and mammals that prey on other pest insects, further harming crops.

When people discover infestations early enough, Vanderwoude said, officials can eradicate an entire colony using bait poisons that foraging ants carry back to the 90 percent of workers that don't leave the nest.

Teya Penniman, manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee, called HB 2469 a start in addressing the problem. Her group is so concerned with the ant's appearance on Maui that it is looking to pay for trained ant-detecting dogs to come to the island, regardless of how the proposed legislation fares.

"Because the wheels of government turn slowly, I'm not willing to wait for us to get those dogs," she said.

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Lazybum wrote:
I would feel much better if you referred to the fire ants as "size-challenged undocumented" fire ants. Thanks (Sarc dial up to 11)
on February 13,2014 | 04:55AM
entrkn wrote:
not amusing
on February 13,2014 | 10:06AM
2localgirl wrote:
Bad news. At least the larger ones are easier to spot. These sound really small.....
on February 13,2014 | 04:57AM
manakuke wrote:
A pest recognized officially; aid proposed.
on February 13,2014 | 05:00AM
Pocho wrote:
We'd participate in Little League Baseball @ the Pearl City Highlands diamonds. The lower field had these tiny ants with strong welting stings from some over 25 years ago. They'd fall from trees or came from the ground The league didn't use pesticides as far as I know cause of the people using the park, it's schoold grounds too. Man, they'd be a pest during the potlucks. They were tinier than 1/16th of an inch at times but packed a sting
on February 13,2014 | 06:05AM
leino wrote:
Speaking of alien species, I wonder what the Hawaiian Islands would be like if Homo sapiens were not introduced? A provocative question worthy of some divergent thinking ... A rhetorical question worthy of some introspection.
on February 13,2014 | 06:13AM
steve76 wrote:
How can they say we only had red ants only a year ago ? certain parts of Oahu already has red ants nesting . when we used to go camping at Bellows ..... our kids were getting bites so we just spread the ant killer " Amdro " that ready works well ,,,,
on February 13,2014 | 06:16AM
ShaveIce wrote:
Different species. Oahu has had tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata) for a long time. Little fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata) is what's new, and it's a lot worse.
on February 13,2014 | 04:00PM
soundofreason wrote:
I'm betting that there are already dozens of EXISTING studies already out there.
on February 13,2014 | 06:34AM
realist3463 wrote:
Hundreds actually. And the ant is still winning.
on February 13,2014 | 06:47AM
ohaibill1 wrote:
$500,000 to study and coordinate, really? Yes, let us pretend like we're doing something. When the size of the threat is compared to what the State has done to combat this plague it is beyond sad and a testament to the lack of insight and leadership in our elected officials." As long as it's not on my island, do I really care," seems to be the (mostly) unspoken attitude around town. Do you really believe it's going to be allowed to infest the Big Island and not come to your piece of paradise? There should be a joint Federal/State task force convened on this creature that threatens not only our lifestyle but the endangered species residing in our forest, get it? Money would flow this way and if the State could figure out how to be reasonably effective in allocating it, there could be real progress. I have little hope of this happening.
on February 13,2014 | 07:22AM
uhsportsfan wrote:
Fire ants have been in the South for at least 40 years, so there's no study that needs to be done. Get rid of these things quick or you never will.
on February 13,2014 | 08:34AM
entrkn wrote:
If Hawaii can eradicate dengue carrying mosquitos, it can eradicate these little monsters that are even more of a threat...
on February 13,2014 | 10:09AM
Imagen wrote:
For $500K I would hope so.
on February 13,2014 | 11:45AM
Wazdat wrote:
Really need to spend 1/2 a million to study this? Amazing
on February 13,2014 | 12:08PM
wn wrote:
There goes our opportunity to capitalize on exporting some of our local grown cultivated products. These ants were detected 15 years ago? Why were steps not taken to eradicate back then?
on February 13,2014 | 12:31PM
Kai37 wrote:
Serious steps were not taken because it was not on Oahu. Only now that it's on Oahu will the State legislature take it seriously. But it's already too late since they are established on the Big Island so Oahu will be fighting a constant battle to keep it from spreading.
on February 13,2014 | 12:55PM