Maui environmentalists take to the skies in battle against little fire ants

Crews fighting against little fire ants on Maui are now taking their battle to the sky -- it's the first time they've tried this technique.
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 7:11 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 4, 2022 at 7:32 PM HST
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NAHIKU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Crews fighting against little fire ants on Maui are now taking their battle to the sky.

It’s the first time this methodology has ever been done — and so far, it’s been very successful.

“It’s very exciting to be a part of this project because it is groundbreaking. Nobody has done this before anywhere, especially in the way that we’re doing it, and it’s working. And not only is it working, it’s working really well,” said Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) Little Fire Ant Coordinator Brooke Mahnken.

MISC little fire ant experts were in East Maui on Friday treating the island’s largest infestation in Nahiku.

“This infestation is near a few homes,” said MISC Public Relations and Education Specialist Serena Fukushima. “Little fire ants have drastic effects not only on our human health and way of life, but our environment and ecology.”

The infestation was first discovered in 2014.

“In response, we had to do a survey to understand the scope and size of the infestation, and what we found is it was sprawling, very large, bigger than anything that we’d encountered before,” Mahnken said.

The infestation was so widespread — about 180 acres — the only way to have a fighting chance was to attack the ants from above.

With the help of Hawaii Ant Lab, MISC was able to secure a helicopter for the operation in 2019.

Now, the infestation is down to only about 40 acres.

“It was extremely difficult terrain, we had to cut our trails first to get into it, a lot of us had to be army crawling through thick Hau Bush,” Fukushima said.

MISC concocted a special ant bait that is sprayed from above and becomes food for little fire ants, but also makes the queen infertile.

“We’re putting them on birth control,” said a MISC crew member.

Little fire ants are tiny invasive insects known to cause major damage.

“Little fire ants are tiny little stinging ants,” said Mahnken. “They live not only on the ground, but in trees and they form super colonies and infest three dimensions everywhere and they rain out of trees on to people, and sting them, make it really difficult to do agriculture. They sting pets in the eyes, causing cloudiness and eventual blindness. They’re really bad pests that we don’t want to live with.

Eighteen little fire ant populations have been discovered on Maui. Thanks to MISC, only seven are currently active.

The high-flying technique has proven to be a real success story, potentially creating a big solution to eliminating a little pest.

Fukushima said it’s important for community members to report all stinging ants.

“We really rely on our community to be those eyes and ears and report stinging ants. So just like we take off our slippers before going into house, that’s a habit that’s ingrained in us. We also want to report stinging ants and really make that a habit,” she said.

To report stinging ants, call 573-MISC, or click here.

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