To fight a tiny ant with a big bite, state turns to TV

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii has come up with a new weapon against little fire ants: television.

Experts say the tiny, but painful (and invasive) pest is threatening to spread across the state. And they're hoping new public service announcements will help spread the word about what people should do if they spot them.

The PSAs started airing Friday.

Christy Martin, public information officer for the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species at UH-Manoa, said public health officials who "really understand little red fire ants are extremely concerned, as they should be."

The ants live in trees and on the ground in moist, shady areas.

Their stings are small and painful and leave itchy rashes. And repeated stings to pets and livestock can even cause blindness.

Derek Arakaki, a noxious weed specialist with the state Department of Agriculture, said the ants can go undetected because they're not aggressive.

"They will reproduce in such large numbers, and you have multiple queens in a small area so it's hard to kill," he said.

Added Martin, "These little fire ants are different from the large tropical fire ants that we kind of grew up with. These ants can reach up to 11 million ants per 5,000 square foot lot." added Martin.

Gerald Tanaka knows all about little fire ants.

He first spotted the little pests in 2013 in his Mililani Mauka yard. By the time he noticed they were there, they'd infested his property.

If you suspect you have them on your property, the new PSAs recommend coating a chopstick with a thin layer of peanut butter and laying it in an area where you think you might have the ants. Then put the chopstick in a plastic bag, freeze it, and send it to the Department of Agriculture.

That's what Gerald Tanaka in Mililani did, and today, thanks to some help from the state, he says he and his neighbors are in the clear.

"Oh, its great. I don't think we have any right now."

The ants first appeared in the state on the Big Island back in 1999.

Fully grown, they're tiny -- just a 16th of an inch long, about the width of a penny.

And eradicating them isn't easy. At Kalihiwai Bay on Kauai, workers needed to get to very remote places to eradicate the ants, even rappelling down seaside cliffs.

The television ad campaign is being organized by the Oahu Invasive Species Committee and the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, both projects of the University of Hawaii. Funding for the ad campaign is from a grant from the Hawaii Invasive Species Council.

For more information on the tiny pests, click here.

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