Tell me about Little Fire Ants? It seems like everyone is talking about this ant, why is it such a problem, can't I just deal with them like I do any other ant species?
There are over 15,000 different ant species known to science, and probably another 15,000 species not yet discovered. Ants are wonderful, interesting, fascinating creatures that are a vital component of most ecosystems on our planet. Overall, they cause little or no nuisance at all and are a valuable part of life. But - around a dozen or so ant species are destructive, difficult to control, and cause impacts to us, natural ecosystems and the economy. These ant species are called "invasive species", and "tramp ants".
Invasive species are simply species of plants and animals that, for one reason or another, have the ability to become the dominant organism in the environment, often to the detriment of other species. Usually these species come from other locations where they are not a problem, but outside of their natural range, become rampant. One theory for this is that checks and balances in the natural environment have evolved to keep everything in its place. These checks and balances could include natural predators, pathogens, the weather patterns, or a host of other factors. When a particular plant or animal is moved to an area where these balances are not present, they are able to multiply and invade their new home.
Many "tramp ants" are invasive. Tramp ants are simply ant species that find it easy to hitch a ride on something that can move them to new locations - shipping cargo, plants or produce, or other items that we move around. The ants don't deliberately look to move elsewhere, but their home is simply in, or on the items we move.
One of the most destructive invasive ant species for tropical regions of the world is the Little Fire Ant (also known by its acronym "LFA"). It's scientific name is Wasmannia auropunctata and was named after the golden, patterned exoskeleton of the species. This ant is extremely small - so small that many people don't even notice it. But once it becomes established in a new location, the colony can grow to massive sizes. An average house lot can support as many as 22 MILION ants. Not only do they have nests in the soil, under stones and the like, but they also nest in trees. Even very tall trees such as coconut palms can support LFA colonies in their crowns.
Actually, its those tree-nesting ants that cause the most problems for us. LFA are not very good at hanging-on when they are out foraging in the canopy and any small breeze or knock brings with it a light rain of ants dropping to the ground. If they land on you or another animal, they will sting. Probably the sting is more from alarm than aggression, but they will sting. And thats when you will discover why they are called Little Fire Ant...
It's just another ant yeah? Why all this fuss?
Yes in some ways, it's just another ant. But - in our lovely tropical climate, this particular species can cause dramatic impacts. They are almost impossible to eradicate once they have become established on your property, and can make life a misery for you, your children and pets, agriculture and the environment. The images on the right of this page show LFA and some of the damage it causes. Their stings are very painful, can cause partial blindness in pets and native fauna, they reduce productivity of food-bearing plants and are a huge threat to our agricultural export industries. Browse through the various pages on this website to learn more about the damage this species can cause. There is an excellent documentary published on YouTube that graphically depicts why this particular ant is so unwanted. Its embedded at the top of this page.
Where in Hawaii are they found?
Little Fire Ants have spread widely through the Pacific region, in places as far-flung as the Galapagos, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Guam and Tahiti. Hawaii is one of the more recent victims of this invasion.
Our beautiful state is made up of a group of islands. Six of these are populated - Oahu, the island of Hawaii (the Big Island), Maui, Kauai, Molokai and Lanai. The climate on these islands is unusual - a mild tropical climate with a low rainfall "leeward" side (southern and western coastlines) and extremely wet "windward" side (northern and eastern coastlines). Little Fire Ants much prefer the wetter areas but are also very capable of living in drier locations.
The island of Hawaii is where LFA were first discovered, and is currently the most heavily infested island. The area from Kalapana to Waipio which includes the main center of Hilo, is the most seriously infested, but the west and south coast from Kailua-Kona along to Naalehu also has scattered LFA colonies. Kauai, Maui, Lanai and Oahu each have small scattered colonies as well. There are efforts on each of these islands to eradicate or aggresively contain those infestations.
How can I prevent them from infesting my property?
There are many things you can do to prevent them from infesting your home. Little Fire Ants need people to move them from place to place. Items like potted plants, landscaping material, produce, mulch and the like all are able to harbor LFA. They are so small, many people do not notice them until it is too late. Check out our fact sheet on monitoring and testing for LFA. This, you should do with any potted plant and landscaping material you buy. Many of these items are imported from the Big Island where LFA are well-established. Although our wonderful quarantine staff inspect these things before shipping, it is possible that some shipments may still have small LFA colonies well hidden and not detectable.