Little fire ant workers and queens
Photo: Dr. Arnold H. Hara, CTAHR
You get stung when you prune your trees, harvest bananas or dig in your garden. Sometimes, these pests drop down on you from above, getting into your clothing, stinging when agitated.
Little fire ants are a relatively new pest to Hawaii and, unfortunately, appear to be here to stay. If you have come in contact with the Little Fire Ant, then you know that this is a pest to be taken very seriously! The bite of the Little Fire Ant burns like fire and some people can develop red welts that burn and itch for days. These pests can hitchhike onto your property in potted plants, mulch, firewood, and soil. They also migrate. If your neighbors have Little Fire Ants, then chances are you will encounter Little Fire Ants on your own property in time.
Unfortunately, once your property is infested with Little Fire Ants, you will probably never successfully eradicate them. The best you can do is to avoid bringing them onto your property in the first place and, if your property or home is infested, to manage their numbers by using the methods developed by Dr. Cas Vandervoude.
TEST FOR ANTS: Here’s an easy way to use chopsticks and peanut butter to test your property for the presence of Little Fire Ants. Not all ants that show up at the peanut butter buffet are Little Fire Ants. There are other protein eating ants that are little, and red, so take the time to identify them accurately.
IDENTIFY THE ANTS: Freeze the specimens (put them in a ziplock bag first) so that they do not escape, and then look at them under a microscope. If you don’t have a microscope, take the specimen to your Master Gardeners office (ants must be frozen in a ziplock bag, or in rubbing alcohol) or to the Agricultural Diagnostic Service Center. More information is available at the Hawaii Ant Lab.
MANAGE LITTLE FIRE ANTS: Information on how to manage little fire ants on your property.
TREAT INFESTED POTTED PLANTS: Information on how to treat potted plants before sharing them with a friend, relative, or plant sale customer. Please, be a good neighbor and avoid spreading LFA. Remember, you may not be able to see them in the soil or on the plant.
CONTROL SWEET EATING ANTS: Here is a simple recipe for controlling ants that eat sweets and greasy foods. Little Fire Ants are attracted to protein foods and will not go for this bait, but you can use this for some of the other ants in your home and on your property. The recipe calls for mint-apple jelly, but you can no doubt substitute guava jelly or honey.
Little Fire ants in MULCH: Is it safe to use the mulch from a green waste site?
Kendal Lyon, Hawaii Island Master Gardeners