Thursday, October 21, 1999

Kauai clobbers
fire ants; Big lsle
still doing battle

State Ag workers intensify
quarantine and poison efforts
to halt the invasion

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent


LIHUE -- State agriculture officials believe they have contained an invasion of little fire ants on Kauai, but more intensive quarantine and poisoning are about to be implemented on the Big Island.

Although the ants produce a painful welt that can last for three days on humans, their sting is mild compared with that of the true fire ant found in other parts of the world, said Agriculture Department ant expert Neil Reimer.

The real danger is to local insect populations. The little fire ant feeds primarily on other insects and other small animals.

"There are many places where they've wiped out all the other native insects,'' Reimer said.

Little fire ants are pale orange and tiny, measuring 1/16th of an inch long, and very slow-moving. They are common in many warm areas of the world but were not seen in Hawaii until early this year.

The first report came in March from a commercial flower grower who was stung at Hawaiian Paradise Park in the Puna District of the Big Island. The ants since have been discovered at nurseries in Kapohou and Panaewa and a fruit tree orchard in Paipakou.

The ants appeared on Kauai only last week. They appear to have arrived in a load of full-grown palm trees shipped from the Big Island to landscape an estate in Kalihiwai on Kauai's north shore.

"We zapped 'em,'' said Guy Nagai, the Agriculture Department's noxious weeds specialist on Kauai.

The state is using Amdro, a bait poison that is affixed to corn grits, which has been effective in eradicating small fire ants. The poison was spread out near the infestation in Kalihiwai on Oct. 14. Two follow-up doses were scheduled for this week but delayed because of heavy rain.

Nagai said he feels certain the little fire ants on Kauai have been contained and it is likely they have been wiped out.

On the Big Island, however, the Agriculture Department is intensifying both its testing and poisoning programs. Nursery operators are being trained to conduct a simple test to see whether small fire ants are present.

"Basically, you put some peanut butter on a chopstick, wait an hour and see if any little fire ants are stuck in it,'' Reimer said.

The department also plans to check every interisland plant shipment leaving the Big Island. Previously, state inspectors certified nurseries that were determined to be pest-free and assumed that all plants shipped from them were safe.

"Residents who are also getting bitten by a slow-moving little brown ant, about the size of a speck of pepper, should contact the department," the agency advised.

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