Maui crews successfully destroy invasive small fire ants – with air support


There is a ray of hope in the fight against the little fire ant on Maui. Crews have successfully eradicated the ants from dense vegetation and difficult terrain.

The Maui Invasive Species Committee launched a pilot two years ago using helicopters to spray bait to sterilize queen ants and contain the stinging pests. The spray combines food grade ingredients and a growth regulator that works like birth control for the queens.

Fire ant coordinator Brooke Mahnken and education specialist Serena Fukushima said they were happy to share some good news – the project has continued throughout the pandemic.

“We were able to go on pretty much non-stop. From October 2019 to May 2021 we carried out 13 treatments at an interval of about six weeks, ”said Mahnken. “We had to go out and do a survey to see how the treatments worked – and it’s not an easy task.”

Committee on Invasive Species of Maui

MISC prepares helicopter birth control applications for ants in the dense jungle of Nāhiku.

The study area in Nāhiku is about 175 acres and ranges from sea level to 1,200 feet – and it’s in the rugged watershed of East Maui, he said. The infestation in this area was first discovered in 2014.

“If you look at a map, the infestation is linear. It’s very long, almost two miles. We believe they were introduced to mauka, about 300 meters into an apartment building, and the infestation spread and got into the.” Creek and then was washed downstream to the sea, “he said.

The crews traversed dense rainforests, vegetation, and rivers to look for the ants after the treatments.

“We made about three quarters of the way. We just have to fill a few gaps. But what we find are over 3,000 samples, 95% of these samples came back without ants. “Mahnken told the Hawaii Public Radio.

He said there are very few little fire ants left, and they are in a small part. So you plan to redraw the air treatment area and continue the treatments there.

“Overall, the change from the previously infested area to what it is now has been very, very big,” he said. “Of course there are places where it is practically impossible to use a helicopter, and that is near people, houses, etc. And that is where the small fire ant infestation often shows up.”

“But for large natural areas, using a helicopter would really change the game of fighting small fire ants, especially for some of the other islands. It’s our biggest infestation on Maui and we’re pounding on it and things are going well. So beyond that there isn’t much need for helicopter work here on Maui – but the other islands could really use the help now, ”said Mahnken.

“The majority of our population reports of small fire ants here on Maui were reported to us by the community. So it is really important that people who have suspicious ants around when they are stung by ants report it to the MISC, “said education specialist Serena Fukushima.

Free ant collection kits and the ants reporting portal can be found at This interview aired on The Conversation on October 28, 2021.

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