Little Fire Ant (Wasmannia auropunctata)
Since the discovery of Wasmannia auropunctata on the Hawaiʻi Island in 1999, the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) worked closely with the local invasive species committees (including MISC), as well as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent the further spread of this ant species. The Hawaiʻi Ant Lab, a project of the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, is also working diligently to mitigate the threats and prevent the inter-island and intra-island spread of existing invasive ant species, including the little fire ant.
- This ant is orange-red to light brown in color, all workers are 1.5 mm in length (half the size of a sesame seed, or as long as a penny is thick, about 1/16 “)
- Slow-moving, easily dislodged from leaves, plants, and trees
- Prefers moist conditions, forming colonies on the ground AND in trees
- Native to Central and South America, LFA were accidentally introduced as hitchhikers on imported plants
- Delivers a painful sting when disturbed. Welts can last for weeks
- Infests agricultural fields and farms, where they damage crops and sting workers
- Promotes plant pests such as aphids, white flies and scale insects, which secrete plant sap that the ants eat. In turn, the ants protect these insects from natural predators and parasites.
- Easily blown out of trees, stinging when they get are caught in hair or clothing.
- Infests homes, beds, furniture and food
- Has been linked to corneal clouding and blindness in pets
- In the Galapagos, LFA attack tortoise hatchlings and sting the eyes of adult tortoises
- Infest bee hives, preying on the larvae and eventually destroy the hive.
- Large infestations are difficult and expensive to control
- First detected on Maui in October of 2009 in Waiheʻe. Thanks in part to the early detection of the infestation, an extremely cooperative landowner, and the recently formed Hawaiʻi Ant Lab, the 1/3 acre infestation was eradicated.
- December 2013: a Maui resident discovers LFA in hapuʻu logs purchased from a local garden shop. Trace-back efforts by HDOA uncover infested material shipped several places in the state.
- June 2014: a MISC employee surveying for LFA discovers an extremely small population of LFA in a South Maui hotel.
- September 2014: MISC field crews working to control miconia find a 20+ acre infestation in a densely vegetated area near Nahiku.
- January 2015: a Maui resident reports stinging ants to MISC. Delimitation surveys reveal a 5-acre infestation in Huelo and ants moved to a single location in Haʻikū.
- Early detection and prevention are essential and the public is urged to report unusual ants on Maui to MISC at 573-6472 or HDOA at 643-PEST.
- All known infestations have been or are currently being controlled. MISC partners with HDOA and Hawaiʻi Ant Lab in detection and control efforts, as well as public outreach activities to raise awareness about LFA.
- MISC’s management goal for little fire ant is island-wide detection and eradication.
Pest Alerts and Publications:
- LFA Brochure
- “Invasion: Little Fire Ants in Hawai’i,” A 2014 documentary by Maui Invasive Species Committee
- “Fire: Little Fire Ants in Hawaiʻi,” A 2016 update documentary by the Maui Invasive Species Committee
- Little fire ant updates from Hawaii Invasive Species Council