We are pleased to feature an article written by 15-year-old Sabastian Lambert from South Kona. For the past two years, Sabastian has been diligently working as an apprentice with our Extension Agent Kiyoshi Adachi. It has been a great pleasure for Kiyoshi to work with and educate Sabastian on best LFA management practices. Sabastian’s understanding and care for Hawai‘i’s natural resources and drive to learn self sustainable methods is truly inspiring. He is mature beyond his years and encourages great optimism for our future keiki o ka ‘aina.
An Invasion by Fire
by Sabastian Lambert
A danger is creeping up into the Hawaiian Islands, consuming all people and landscapes in its path. Creeping along slowly, silently, and often unknown until it is too late. We are losing our land, communities, and livelihoods. We are losing our quality of life. Yet, there is little alarm as paradise is lost to a nightmare.
Native to South and Central America, this ant species has spread rapidly across the tropical and subtropical regions around the world, leaving its mark as one of the 100 worst invasive species on the planet. The little fire ant was introduced to Hawaii in the 1990s, through the nurseries in the district of Puna on Hawaii Island. The horticultural industry is a critically important aspect of life in Hawaii, but without close inspection, it is very easy to import invasive species like the LFA. Their introduction marked a continual plummet in biodiversity and quality of life across the state. The LFA, being expert hitch hikers, are introduced in countless ways such as in organic matter, soil, vehicles, and building materials. From the start, measures to prevent the LFA invasion were few and divided. This ineffective effort has allowed the LFA to make its home on the islands of Hawaiʻi, Maui, Oʻahu, and Kauaʻi. Its invasion continues at a growing rate.
We need to further prevent the spread of this species for the health of the land and people of Hawaii. Otherwise, agriculture will be forever changed, our high quality of life will be gone, and so many dreams will no longer be possible.
There are significant differences between the little fire ant and other ant species that give it an advantage over almost any environment that permits its survival. One key factor to the success of the LFA is its tolerance of multiple queens per colony, giving way to prolific populations. It is also a cloned species, meaning each colony is one entity, sharing a universal intelligence. For the LFA, there is strength in numbers. This small, slow moving red ant possesses a painful stinger that they use on their prey. It is their weapon for eliminating biodiversity.
The LFA is an omnivore and a protein ant, who gather plant foods and farm such insects as aphids and mealy bugs for their sweet excrement. There are three main roles that the ants play in the colony. The female workers spend most of their lives tending to the queens and larvae inside the colony. When they have about 30 to 50 days to live, they are sent out to forage for the queens. The males fertilize the queens. It all revolves around the queens. The lifeline of the colony. The queens live up to two years, while the workers only live up to 4 months. In Its homeland of South and central America, the little fire ant has many predators, which preserve the balance of the ecosystem. Outside its homeland however, it has no real natural enemies. Hawaii is an ideal habitat with no competent predators and a wet humid environment. The little fire ant is in love with paradise just as we are.
With the coming of COVID 19, people across the state, as well as across the nation, began growing their own food on a massive scale. This widespread movement is an encouraging step towards food security and resiliency. However, spreading organic materials on the scale that we are now poses a great risk. People are discovering the LFA in their gardens, backyards and inside their homes like never seen before. It is of great urgency that we raise awareness of how serious this really is. Once you have the LFA you are faced with an endless series of challenges and hardships. It blinds your pets, eliminates beneficial animals and insects, and inflicts great suffering on you and your families. Outside activities like gardening are soon no longer possible. Trails, farms, forest, and beaches you once enjoyed are soon inaccessible, having become exclusive LFA territories. One of the worst things about all this is that most of the time, you do not even know that you are being invaded until you are being swarmed and stung in your living or working spaces.
It is worth all the time, energy, and expenses to test any soil, plants, organic matter, building materials, or any other possible homes of the LFA. It is of great importance that this same diligence be applied to treating already present infestations. Information on testing, prevention, and treating can be found on the Hawaii Ant Lab website. Kiyoshi Adachi from HAL has personally been of great assistance in helping me treat my own LFA infestation. Whatever method you choose, it is essential to be religious in your treatments when reclaiming your property from the little fire ant. Though, you may never be rid of the species completely. For there are many people who follow through on their treatments, yet the little fire ant continues to encroach upon their property’s borders from neighboring pieces of land where nothing is done about it. Without a strong community effort, the little fire ant will continue to send its roots deeper into every aspect of daily life. It is more important than ever to take the extra measures needed to prevent the spread of this species. In doing so, you are contributing to the health of your families and communities. You are contributing to the health and preservation of these beautiful blessed islands for all future generations to love and enjoy.
About the Author
My name is Sabastian Lambert and I am a 15 year old. I am a 9th grade homeschool student living in Honaunau, South Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.
I have a wide range of interests and passions, including gardening, cooking, writing, and environmentalism. I have pursued these passions through a number of means, such as participating in farming internships, apprenticing under local farmers, and engaging in in-depth studies and other projects, including essay contests, news’ articles, and environmental challenges. In addition, I recently joined SEEDS of Honua, a youth based organization committed to creating a healthier, more sustainable Hawaii through gardening and environmental advocacy.
I am also passionate about native and invasive species. I am not against all invasive and non-native species, however, after a face to face encounter with the LFA last February, my eyes were opened to a harsh reality. In the garden, my heart plummeted to the sight of small red ants creeping along slowly on the raised bed. Then, everything changed. Having been as established as it was, creeping along the foundation of our home, up in the canopy of the trees, in the depths of the soil, our home and backyard were no longer the safe places we once knew them to be. This called for immediate action. With the assistance of Kiyoshi Adachi from the Hawaii Ant Lab (HAL), I have carried out testing, identification, and treatment over the last eight months, drastically reducing the LFA population on my property. The LFA could have potentially invaded our home and caused great suffering for my family and I, had action not been taken.