Invasion! Little Fire Ants in Hawaii (2014)

Invasion! Little Fire Ants in Hawaii (2014)


There is a new, invasive, stinging ant now
established on the Big Island that threatens the environment, the economy, and the way
of life on all the Hawaiian Islands. How could this be? How could I not know about
this? How could this be something that’s going to threaten me so badly and I’ve never heard
of it? When you look in the grand scheme of things,
the nastiest of the invasive ants, with the greatest impact on Hawai’i is the little fire
ant. A guy came in with his back completely covered
with fire ant bites. I would guess two hundred, three hundred bites. They’d crawl up our legs, they were on our
couches, in our beds, in my dresser. Millions of ’em. They were just everywhere. I’ve been the manager of the Maui Invasive
Species Committee for more than a decade. Working with an amazing team of people, staff,
partners, working to control and eradicate the most harmful species across Maui Nui.
I’ve had the opportunity to work on issues statewide. Traveling to Big Island, Kaua’i,
and Tahiti, I’ve seen just how devastating the little fire ant can be and my concern
has only grown. I’m now convinced that without an extraordinary effort, the little fire ant
will be a catastrophe for Hawai’i. The little fire ant is native to South America.
Moved by human travel and commerce the ants have spread to many islands in the Pacific
with devastating impacts. In 1999, little fire ants were discovered in Puna on the Big
Island. Now they are widespread in Hāmākua, Hilo, and Puna, from Waipi’o to Kalapana.
By 2011 they had spread to Kona and are now established in many sites. In 1999, they were
found in Kalihiwai on Kaua’i, and in 2009 a small infestation was confirmed in Waihe’e,
Maui. Dr. Cas Vanderwoude in an expert on the little
fire ant who has worked on ants throughout the Pacific. He is now based in Hilo as Hawai’i’s
ant specialist. I was working on a project in New Guinea and
the locals there took me to a place that was infested with little fire ants. And the impacts
were so extraordinary, the problems that this species caused were so huge, that it was sort
of a bit of a turning point for me, I guess, and from that time onward I spent more and
more of my time working researching ways to control this species and also looking at the
kind of impacts this species has on both people, and on the environment, and on agriculture. Now with little fire ants, we have colonies
with lots and lots of queens. So if one queen dies, it’s not that important because there
are other queens that will take her place. And those queens will stay with that parent
colony, or walk away a few feet, or a few yards so that they remain connected to the
parent colony all the time where really most scientists would consider that network to
be a single colony and we would call that a super colony. Super colonies can span many
aces, many thousands of acres in some cases where all the workers you would find all work
together and cooperate with each other. The Hawaiian Islands are in the early stages
of infestation. Unless we stop their spread, little fire ants will form massive super colonies
on each island changing Hawai’i forever. Most ants like open, sunny, kind of drier
places, but little fire ants are much more of a rainforest species. They like it shady,
they like it wet, and they like to live in trees, which again, most ants will nest in
the ground and then actually forage on trees but these will look for places to set up their
nests in the trees themselves. For an arboreal species, for a species that like to live in
trees, they’re not actually very good at hanging on. So even a small bump to vegetation will
result in a rain of these little ants falling down onto the person or the animal that’s
bumped the tree. We got rained upon by all of these fire ants.
We didn’t know what it was, but it was very, very painful it was. Like burning after that,
just had to go take a shower and it still was burning after that. The sting’s actually very small and a lot
of people don’t notice that it’s an insect that stung them. What they end up with is,
a few minutes after being stung, they end up with a rash. It was like, what is this rash? Intensely
itchy, painful rash. And the itch, if you can not scratch is manageable, manageable
if you don’t scratch. But kids scratch and adults scratch. And you know it’s just very
hard to not go, I have a fire ant bite right here, it’s very hard for me to not dig at
it right now cause it’s itching me. They were so itchy, they were so, so itchy
and I mean even a day or two after I got bit they were still itchy. They hurt for a long
time and they leave scars, too cause I would scratch them I guess. The pattern of fire ant bites is that they
disappear for a while and then they come back, they disappear for a while and then they come
back. And over three or four days, on day three it can be just as itchy as it was on
day one. The next level of concern is infection, that’s when people dig at it. And around here
when you have an open sore, you’re going to get infected. You’re gonna get a staphylococcal
infection and then chances are really good that it’s gonna be MERSA and so that’s what
we are dealing with at the clinic. Yeah, well I remember the first time Michaela
got bit by a fire ant. It bit her on her chest and it swelled and it was red and it was really
angry looking and I think she was maybe not even a month old, I think, and I just freaked
out. You know we’d sit and the couch and you’d
look on the ground and you’d see ants, you know, right under you. So we couldn’t put
her on the ground. You’d have to dust your feet off before you
sat on the couch or got into bed. Shake your towels out, your clothes out. They were just
everywhere. It was everywhere. Now, it’s just really a prevalent problem.
They’re everywhere. I think everybody would have a story about an infestation in their
homes, in their cars. They’re all over in the schools. Prior to the very recent treatment
of this school, they were in my classroom. It’s challenging in an elementary school and
an edible garden. I had to let all the parents know, we have this problem. If you kid comes
home with a…you know, make sure that none of them have allergies. But everybody at one
point or another got a bite or two. The custodians, I mean they a hard time maintaining the campus
because all of the foliage around the campus was just loaded. So, when they did the septic tank they brought
in materials and they brought in cinder, so I’m thinking that they probably brought in
the ants too. We never had that problem before. And then whatever we move around, the materials,
you spread around for the campus, so we probably spread it more. People are being stung in their homes, at
work, and in parks. Public land and wild places may be abandoned to the ants. Hunting, hiking,
and even beach trips will not be the same. The ants have already infested parks in the
Hilo area. We notice because it’s around out tower. And
then for some of the people that lay out on the grass or sometimes they lay out on the
far side, over there and they come telling us they’re getting bit. It falls off the trees,
too, sometimes. It falls onto the beach patrons and they come up, something’s burning their
neck and…[sigh]. It’s a really bright, bright day you see the little ant cause it’s really
small. That thing actually went with us to our homes. That’s the, that’s the bad part.
In our cars. They spread and end up in your bed and you get a bite in the night and not
a good feeling. Yeah, it’s getting worse, it’s getting worse. But for people that live a subsistence lifestyle,
that live, you know, very firmly connected with the land, that produce most of their
own food and the things that they need from their own land. And they have to suffer the
crop losses or the economic losses or the production losses and there’s not a lot that
they can do about it. Everywhere, there’s not, not one spot without
ants. If he didn’t treat, he’d have no life, no income. So, t he ant has been here for
six years and he’s been able to contain it right on his property and trying to find a
way to get rid of it. Some of the people I talk to they feel really
trapped because they don’t have the ability either financially or technically to actually
deal with these issues, so it just adds an extra burden to their life. They don’t even want to eat their bananas
any more. The pineapple is full of ants. The ants get into the taro. What was it like before
the ants came, living here? A lot of food. It was really nice. A lot of food. Paradise.
It was paradise, but they don’t give up. How long has the land in this area been a part
of her family? Generations. How often do you get stung? Everyday, everyday, everyday. When
the wind is really strong, don’t come outside. A lot of people have abandoned their land
already. Her cousin abandoned his land, up there they abandoned they’re land. They left.
They don’t wasn’t to live here anymore. They gave up. So Tahiti is the most populated island in
French Polynesia. It is also the biggest one with the tallest peaks and mountains, so it
has the richest biodiversity in French Polynesia. We’ve got about 850 native plants including
550 endemics. If some colonies are accidentally moved to those higher elevation areas it would
be an ecological disaster. Like Tahiti, Hawai’i is an evolutionary showcase
with an exceptionally high number of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
Little fire ants have the ability to transform and decimate native places and species. Forest
birds and ground nesting sea birds are at risk along with sea turtle hatchlings. Even
the smallest creatures, bugs, beetles, and spiders are vulnerable. In some infested areas
of New Caledonia, little fire ants now dominate, making up more than 90% of insects with impacts
cascading throughout entire ecosystems. Hawai’i’s got quite a remarkable number of
seabirds for the area. We have 23 breeding species of seabirds. Probably 20 would be
directly threatened by ants in a large way. And all of them have this really long incubation
period and long defenseless period. This about a month old chick of a wedgetailed shearwater
and you can see it’s pretty helpless. There’s no tail feathers or wing feathers. A big,
fat, ball of down. These birds are particularly susceptible to ants during the period of time
when the egg is ready to hatch. It makes a hole in the egg shell which allows ants and
things to actually enter it and to start directly attacking the chick inside of the egg. If
ants were to get into some of the of the low wet forests like I’ve heard that they’ve done
in other areas, they may be the thing that would push Newell Shearwaters and low elevation
nesting Hawaiian Petrels or other endangered species over the edge. The effect that it has on pets. The blinding
and I’m sure it’s got to be very painful for them to be constantly being bitten or stung. At start she was loving to go in the bush.
Now she stays home. She is blind. One time we did witness a bite on the eye.
He came in right after and just ferociously rubbing his eye. You know, he was in a lot
of pain for a while. You could tell. A few hours, sat and just licked and rubbed his
eye. The black one who is affected the most, if
I pick him up, it never fails, he’s got fire ants in his fur. I’m bitten every time I pick
him up. Every single animal we have, we have three
cats and two dogs and every single one of them has a, have clouded cornea. There’s no
question that the fire ants and the clouded cornea come together I don’t know how you
prove it. Being here I know, I know that’s what ‘s doing
it. Feeling the stings, I’m sure that it’s the fire ants. We’re animal lovers, yeah. They’re very much
a part of the family. When I first heard that the little fire ant
had arrived on Maui, my heart sank because I knew what a threat it posed and knew what
the challenges are associated with trying to control a pest species that is so small,
but that can be so powerfully damaging. When we were making a banana delivery my glasses
had dropped to the ground and when I picked them up and put them on I got bit on the eye.
And it was so severe. I had to, like, run to the house and put ice on my eye. I had
to lay down and the thought came that, I wonder if this is the fire ant. Initially when they
came out to do the testing, so they put the peanut butter sticks everywhere, where we
felt the ant, we’d experienced the ant. And it came back positive. It was evident that
the destruction that the fire ant can bring to an island, which is what’s happening on
the Big Island is something we did not want to happen here on Maui. Then whatever contribution
we could make to help prevent the fire ant from coming to Maui we were gonna make. So Maui was a good small scale test case.
And Kaua’i presents a good opportunity for a large scale test case on eradication. Right here we’re on Kalihiwai Beach. It’s
a beautiful sandy scape and it abuts this cliff side area. The ant infestation is actually
along that cliff line around the corner. And as I got to the bottom of the cliff where
i go holoholo and I could feel some bites all over my shoulders and my back and I was
like, ho, what is this? And then I could see some ants was on top of me. When it’s wet,
you’re always grabbing trees, grabbing the rope, so I guess that’s what kinda makes ’em
all come down too on you. And you’re getting bit going down the trail and it’s like, ahhh.
That’s the trail we use all the time and that would be the trail I would take my son down
there and having the ants fall on top of him and getting bit up, that’d be a big concern
for me. I wouldn’t want that happening. Well, some landscaper came and you know, landscaped
the property down below here and two fire ants were in that particular plant and now
we have a colony. It’s really bothered us and so I asked that question. How and why,
where did this fire ant come from? Historically, the little fire ant arrived
to Kaua’i in 1999 on a shipment of palms. So the original infestation was only about
five acres. It was believed to be eradicated, but what had actually happened was that it
was brought to undetectable levels. And unfortunately now it’s about twelve to fifteen acres. Without
Department of Ag’s containing it on that edge, it would have spread across that property
and on to the next one. It would be devastating to have it infest this area, one of the nicest
beaches on Kaua’i. Farming is woven into Hawai’i’s history and
is key to a sustainable future. Healthy are a critical component of farming. The pollination
of crops, honey production, and Hawai’i’s Queen Bee industry face a new threat. The bee industry is important wherever you
are. All our hives have succumbed to LFA because LFA is a protein eater and the larval stage
of the bees are very susceptible. If you have LFA and they’re close to your hive and they
can get up and into that hive, they’ll probably take your hive down. I think it’s much more
dangerous than the varroa mite. Both local and export agriculture and our
hopes for food security are at risk because of the little fire ant. In addition to stinging
agricultural workers, little fire ants can weaken plants by farming insects like aphids
and mealy bugs. Those insects secrete a sugary substance that
the ants use as a source of energy. So the ants have a huge source of energy that allows
them expand and grow and farm yet more mealy bugs and scale insects which makes the plant
sicker and sicker. That decline in health could result in quite substantial crop losses. I grow macadamia nuts, coffee. I have lychee,
mangosteen, orchids. Just a little bit of everything. A diversified crop farm. I was going to grow four to eight acres of
palms for hearts of palm, a couple acres bamboo nursery. So by the time we discovered them,
we had millions and millions and millions. The palms are not harvestable because of the
ants. I’m out of business. Totally. Little fire ant. Now I have fire ants in my lychee crop. You’re
in there with the panicles and you’re trying to grab your lychee and cut it and all that.
You get them on you. I watched them as they were shaking all these ants off of them. And
basically it was raining ants. Raining fire ants on them from the lychee. The cost of trying to actually control fifteen
acres when there are literally, you can ask Cas, but I’m sure hundreds of thousands in
one tree. And finding people willing to work in the orchard is extremely difficult. I really
think that this is the most devastating invasive that we have. When I heard about the little fire ant I was
really appalled and really scared. We’d be in very big trouble if it came into our coffee
lands. We harvest off the tree and these branches are always leaning over us. Harvesting anything
from a tree is going to be very, very, very difficult. And it will greatly impact agriculture.
I mean, agriculture as we know it will not be here. Wearing my hat as the chair of the board of
agriculture, I see little fire ant as being a very significant threat. We need to address
this quickly. When you look at our mandate, what is it to
do? It’s not just to protect agriculture, it’s not just to protect the environment,
it is to protect the native biota, it’s to protect the public health. We can’t do it
all. And that is very frustrating. It’s hard choices. It’s choosing between snakes or between,
do we look at all the fish coming in because they may have pirahnas in them. Or do we look
about what we’re not doing now which is the weedy plants. We’re so dependent on food,
imported food, that we can’t let our stores or restaurants go empty. So we’re forced to
get it out. Whether or not there are pests on them, we’re forced to get them out. We
still get a sampling of interceptions. You know things are getting through and now what
do we do from here. So invasive species and the little fire ant
in particular are very problematic because they will inhibit, I think, agricultural expansion. So I think, it is impacting our growers. I
think they’re finding that the ant is moving and where they didn’t have a problem a couple
years ago, I think everyone is concerned this pest is moving from area to area and how do
you deal with it. I think that’s the difficulty with this. It’s the size of the pest. This
particular one is so small that you really have to look for it. Because we’re already
considered a high risk pathway for the spreading of pests to the continental US, the presence
of little fire ant in these nursery shipments or these flower shipments has heightened the
concern that it will cause a California embargo. California’s gotten very, very restrictive
in terms of what we can export from Hawaii to their markets. So they’re, you know, they’re
really kind of on the verge of closing us down. If they find out that they cannot export their
crop. Or, or sell it, at all. I think they’ll be very concerned. But because most people
don’t have it, or haven’t been stung, bitten, they don’t know the effect. they don’t know
that this is a very serious insect. Because our islands are connected, you have
to have real, meaningful, ongoing inspection, detection, reporting capabilities, because
without that we will get it. It will become established and it will spread in the Pacific. The ant is essentially gonna be, is here to
stay on the Big Island and that’s just the reality and what we’re gonna be doing is mitigating
effects, essentially forever. What we need is a good detection network so we can respond
quickly and eradicate it before LFA gets a good foothold. To do that we need more support for our inspectors.
We need more inspectors. We need sniffer dogs, dog detectors and handlers. We need to have
the industry, the shipping industry to be involved and supportive. We need to stop [the
ants] from moving between islands. And that’s why it’s so important for people everywhere
to become aware of what it looks like, what it does, how to report it, and to demand the
tools and the resources to address it when it does become established. We need support
from our legislators, our elected officials, county officials, federal officials, and we
need everyone to be involved. There’s on thing that that little ant really
loves, and it’s peanut butter. So you take a chopstick and thinly coat it
with peanut butter on one end and lay it in the areas where you think you might have little
fire ant. Be it a potted plant you’re bringing onto your property or a banana tree you’ve
already planted or a palm you’ve already planted, they really do like moisture. It’s really
not difficult, at all. Within forty five minutes, the sticks will have the little fire ant on
them. They’re very small, but you should be able to see them. And of course if you do
find them, you want to put that little stick in a plastic bag, freeze it to kill it, and
then send it to the Department of Agriculture so that they can make a positive ID because
there actually are quite a few stinging ants on the islands and they’re only able to actually
positively ID them with a microscope. We need for people to understand just how
serious this problem is and to ask, demand, support action to stop it now while we still
have a chance.

34 thoughts on “Invasion! Little Fire Ants in Hawaii (2014)”

  1. Great coverage of this serious problem. I lived in a house a couple of years ago that was infested with ants, and it was absolutely unbearable… 
    I would really like a potent solution to remove this species from the plant to be engineered, whether its a specialized poison or a genetically engineered disease/bacteria/virus to wipe them out.

  2. I have wondered why Hawaii doesn't produce more of their own food. Unfortunately, when the islands are so dependent on imported foods, this fire ant could make it so that almost none of the food comes from their own extremely fertile land. If Hawaii became more interested and growing and supplying their own food, perhaps taking control of the LFA invasion would became more important.

  3. wow , this is insane ! Have they found a biological solution ? maybe introduce a species of harmless ants to destroy these little fire ants ? I hope they solve this problem soon . Good luck !!

  4. Great documentary informing of the problem.   And, WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
      Found fireants on my property.   How do we get rid of them????

  5. How much more? ~~
    BEFORE The Human Impact Devastator is STOPPED Completely!

    Monsanto destroys all living spiecies — Little Fire Ants are 'talking' to you and everyone —

    PUT AN IMMEDIATE “ STOP “ TO MONSANTO 
    (environmentally destructive impacting/poisons) 

    ERADICATE MONSANTO AND ALL MONSANTO PRODUCTS AND MANUFACTURING —
    The Eco-System will 'automatically correct itself'

    SUGGESTION:
    ~ USE PEROXIDE SPRAY — IMMEDIATELY and repeatedly 

    ~ Don't  Scratch

    ~ Use NEEM spray
    (water and neem mixture) on plants and animals

    ~ Sanitize:  Use 1/2 part Outdoor Clorox to 1/2 part WATER (Mixture)
    Spray around your outside walking area
    Stay clean

    ~ Stop destroying life and environment,  people, animal, and insect, etc.  !!!!!

  6. I remember being bitten by one when I was in first grade. Not very nice, and I wouldn't want them on Oahu or in my bed.

  7. Is it possible to kill the Little Fire Ants with regular ant traps? Such as the workers bringing back the food back to their queen and kill the whole colony?

  8. Crop Production Services is finally selling pint containers ($32) of TANGO, which is a super safe Insect Growth Regulator.  The baby ants can't grow up so eventually the entire nest dies and the queen is none the wiser. http://www.littlefireants.com/ for their easy ant killer recipe.  IT WORKS!

  9. AS far as I know there are no insects that like Peppermint oil. They absolutely abhor it along with every other insect. Not to mention the fact that peppermint oil is not harmful to you or anything else.

  10. There are pot smoking assholes running around the Internet trying to defend the rights of the Little Fire Ants, and will abuse you if you even give a comment that suggests fighting against the LFA.

  11. If you have LFA on your property you gotta got to Hawaii ant lab website and check the Provaunt gel bait recipe, it actually really works unlike many other things. stop them before you spread them in your cars, plants, fruit, and shoes!

  12. What I wish was described in the video is what actually can be done to eradicate the colonies without collateral damage to other native species. Has a pesticide been developed that can target the queens? How does it work?

  13. Asking for more government.
    Rejecting any help out of the government realm.
    This kind of propaganda disgusts me much more than LFA.
    Want to help? Say to people what they can do on their own!!!

  14. Why is the little boy at 7:28 wearing hot pink shorts and a pink shirt with a butterfly and hearts on it? Is this how you guys raise boys in Hawaii? I mean seriously, I feel bad for that kid because his mom does not respect him at all.

  15. Very informative! My wife and I live on the BIg Island and see these ants in our home on occasion. My wife is very sensitive to insect bites, so when she noticed them we knew we had a bit of a problem on our hands, literally.

  16. Amdro…..fire ant killer spread it out in your grass, the ants eat it back in the ant hill….kills in 24 hrs

  17. Are these ants affected by soapy water? At home I have my sink filled with soapy water and then I lay a rag filled with that water over the ants that are in my house, and put it in the sink and all those ants die. What have you found to be effective in killing them? I was hoping you would give some idea for help other than just freezing them and sending them in for verification of their presence.

  18. 23:14 Holy shit they're tiny, they look like they're the same size as Pharaoh Ants, which are also invasive. The good thing about Pharaoh Ants is that they don't sting or bite, cause they don't have stingers and their jaws are too small to pinch skin.

  19. Hey guys! Do you love ants and want to meet new antkeepers? If so, join our Discord communtiy. Growing and full of wholesome members we're willing to take anyone in and teach each other about antkeeping. Invite code: zrUDdFt

  20. Oh my god, these people piss me off so much. Forage Flies parasitize and annihilate entire fireant colonies. They are harmless to native species, and they keep fireants in check. And they are perfectly adapted to survive in the Hawaiian climate.

    Hawaii will never be able to completely get rid of fire ants. They are too resiliant. But by introducing non-harmful natural predators of the fireant, they CAN control the problem and minimize it.

    Introduce forage flies, and that will go a LONG way to minimizing how big of a pest they are.

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