Are There Ants in Your Plants?

October is Stop the Ant Month!
(Photo: Little Fire Ants (LFA) infestation under a nursery weed mat. Credit: Matt Sandrich/Hawaii Ant Lab)

Native to South America, Little Fire Ants (LFA; Wasmannia auropunctata) were first detected in the Puna District of Hawai‘i Island in 1999. Since then, these tiny ants have been moved around hidden in plants, produce, and even things like vehicles and equipment from infested areas.  They continue to be intercepted in interisland cargo by agriculture inspectors, and crews continue to find and work to eradicate any new infestations on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, and in Maui County. On Hawai‘i Island, LFA are established in many urban and non-urban areas, so communities are learning how to prevent, detect, and control the ant populations on their property and in their neighborhoods.

Little fire ant queens remain in nests that are protected and fed by workers. These nests can be on the ground, in leaf litter, in plants, and even up in trees and in our homes. LFA may be tiny, but their stings are painful and the itching and burning sensation can last for several weeks. A few stings are manageable, but when LFA infestations reach high densities, stings become unavoidable and unbearable.  Pets and livestock in infested areas can suffer stings to open skin, ears, and eyes, which causes infection and can lead to blindness. Stings to agricultural workers make fruit, coffee, and produce harvests more difficult and costly, and they add a new level of complexity to landscape and nursery work. The estimated cost of LFA on Hawai‘i island alone exceeds $200 million in damages annually.

What can we do?  October is “Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month” in Hawai‘i. This annual campaign asks residents and businesses—including landscape, construction, and nursery crews—to be aware that these ants must be detected and controlled.  We are asking people to collect ants from their property, freeze them overnight to kill them, then mail or deliver the ants to officials for identification.  Collecting and submitting ants once a year can help us quickly find LFA or detect new harmful ant species before they become too widespread.  Why not just spray?  To successfully control or even eradicate LFA and other species of ants, you need to kill the queens, not just the worker ants that you see.  And the key to doing that is to know what type of ants you’re dealing with.

For more information, including instructions and a short video on how to collect and send ants, please visit www.StopTheAnt.org.

 

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About the author  ⁄ Garrett Webb

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