VIDEO: Battle Against Little Fire Ants Picking Up Steam
The consensus is in: There is nothing small about the damage and impact wreaked by the little fire ant.
The list of those affected by the LFA is extensive, and includes ranchers, farmers, nurseries, schools and the tourist industry.
The monetary damage alone they cause is now estimated at millions of dollars annually.
And the number of horror stories continues to grow from Big Island residents who encounter the stinging insects in their orchards, gardens, yards and even their homes.
Their dogs and cats are also falling victim to the ants whose stings can cause blindness. Veterinarians call the condition “Florida spots.”
The tiny pest with the scientific name Wasmannia auropunctata is the focus of no less than 15 bills being considered during this legislative season.
One of those, House Bill 2469, doesn’t mince words about the threat of the ants, calling them “among the world’s worst invasive species.”
“Human behaviors and habitats allow the little fire ant to move quickly, disperse widely, grow to high densities, and inhabit locations not otherwise possible,” the bill said.
HB2469, co-sponsored by a dozen lawmakers and approved last Thursday by two House committees, and its companion measure, Senate Bill 2920, would establish a little fire ant pilot program on the Big Island.
The program would address the spread of LFA in county parks, test different types of pesticides to combat the ants and develop strategies to stop their spread for other counties.
In its initial form, the bill contained $306,000 to fund the program.
Both committees made changes to the bill, but the form of the amendments was not immediately available.
So far, the problem is confined mostly to the Big Island, where they were first found in 1999.
But they are increasingly showing up on other islands, including last month on Oahu and Maui, where they were believed to have been transported in shipments of hapu`u ferns from the Big Island.
According to the website lfa-hawaii.org, the scourge that is the little fire ant has devastated communities and wildlife whenever it has become established in the Pacific.
The website said its bigger cousin, the tropical fire ant Solenopsis geminate, has been in Hawaii since the 1940s, but pales in comparison to the impacts of the LFA, which can literally rain down out of trees on unsuspecting victims when the wind blows.
Stories from victims and other information about the little fire ant are contained in a video produced by the Maui Invasive Species Committee: