Alarms raised as fire ant infestation grows
HILO » Researchers say it will be difficult to stop an infestation of fire ants on the Big Island and Kauai that is spreading.
The ants are already a bigger threat than coqui frogs, known for their loud chirping that makes them a nuisance on the Big Island and Maui, said Tommy Thompson, an entomology researcher associated for the University of Hawaii-Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
"They're hard to find because a lot of people don't realize they're infested until it becomes too late," Thompson said.
The fire ants, first discovered on the Big Island in Puna in 1999, have been identified at more than 50 sites around the island and on one on Kauai, all on private property, Thompson said.
They are about as long as a penny is thick, and they are suspected of blinding pets and killing birds.
It would be nearly impossible to wipe out the invasive ants from Hawaii, but their rapidly growing population could be contained.
"Eradication is highly unlikely at this point, but control and containment at this point is definitely feasible," Thompson said.
The ants have spread throughout Hilo, Mountain View, Kalapana and Laupahoehoe. They have not been found in West Hawaii yet, but Thompson said it is only a matter of time.
Allergies to the ants' stings have not caused any human deaths, but the ants do make pets blind when they are stung in the eyes, he said. In the Solomon Islands, the ants prevent many dogs from living longer than four or five years.
Over time it is likely that the ants will move to the rest of the Hawaiian Islands on ships such as the Hawaii Superferry because they are so small.
"They (agriculture inspectors) are not going to check every nook and cranny," Thompson said.
Thompson's ant research is only funded until December, after which time there will not be anyone focusing on fire ant identification and control.
"We must all make this an immediate issue in every way," said Geoff Rauch, a farmer with the Know Your Farmer Alliance, in a letter to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. "We must push for full and immediate funding for inspection, detection, research on control measures (including eco-methods) and every way possible to create islandwide awareness of the magnitude of this problem."