Small fire ants spotted in Wailua River State Park

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    Small fire ants.

The state is working to understand the full extent of a small fire ant infestation after discovering a new population at Kauai’s Wailua River State Park.

The current estimated size of the infestation is 13 to 35 acres according to surveys by the Kauai Invasive Species Committee and the State Department of Agriculture, although this is still under investigation.

The infestation is ready to spread, the DOA and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a joint news release today.

“The location of this underprivileged population is of concern given its proximity to the Wailua River,” Curt Cottrell, administrator of the DLNR Division of State Parks, said in a statement. “LFA can ‘raft’ along waterways, allowing them to spread far greater distances.”

With no species of ants native to the islands, the state has prioritized detection and containment of the LFA, which has caused significant economic damage to the island of Hawaii for more than 20 years — from loss of agricultural productivity to control costs of the populations years before.

“Our current priority is to find a solid perimeter of the infestation,” Tiffani Keanini, KISC manager, said in a statement. “Once we identify the size and terrain, we begin developing a response plan, brainstorming management strategies and a list of resources needed to engage the population.”

Prior to this year, the ant species was introduced to three locations on Kauai: in 1999, on 11 acres in Kalihiwai; 2.5 acres in Kilauea in 2019; and 12 acres in Moloaa in 2020. Populations in Kalihiwai and Kilauea have been controlled and treatment is ongoing in Moloaa.

KISC is asking Kauai residents to collect ants on their properties by “using a smear of peanut butter on several chopsticks.” The peanut butter attracts ants and the sticks should be collected and sealed in a ziplock bag and frozen for 24 hours to kill the ants.

The bags should then be handed in or mailed to the KISC office.

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