Eradication options in Waimanalo Little Ant infestation

KHON - April 17, 2014
Nestor Garcia

The fight against the further spread of the Little Fire Ants on Oahu is being fought out in a field in Waimanalo.

On Thursday, workers with the state Agriculture Department took University of Hawaii ant researcher Dr. Cas Vanderwoude to the four-acre state parcel where the infestation was confirmed earlier this week. They also laid baits around the perimeter laced with peanut butter to determine whether the ants have spread out from the infested area.

“Basically you’d be looking on the leaf for anything crawling, and a lot of times you got to watch out if you pick up anything on yourself,” said Derek Arakaki with the Agriculture Department.

While the Agriculture Department wants to keep the infested site a secret to keep the curious out, it also wants to make the public aware that this problem needs to be nipped in the bud now.

“One of the key aspects of preventing invasive species from moving around is to get them early,” said Dr. Vanderwoude, who arrived on Oahu Thursday morning from the Ant Laboratory on Hawaii island. “If we have a small infestation like what we have here, then we have a good chance of eradicating it.”

The terrain at the infested area is overgrown with vegetation, making the fight against the little fire ants difficult.

“Where there’s a will, there a way,” said Dr. Vanderwoude. “We will lay all options on the table.”

One of those options is to put dogs on the hunt, specially-trained to go after little fire ants. Dr. Vanderwoude referred to dogs schooled in Australia. He has studied their efforts, and can attest to their abilities.

“A properly trained detection dog can find a single ant,” said Dr. Vanderwoude. “If you look at this site, it’s not the easiest site to walk around. We have to find a grain of sand in this four-acre lot.

“A dog can do in days what would take me hours, so it is a very efficient tool, especially at the end of an eradication and finding other possible small infestations elsewhere,” he added.

Dr. Vanderwoude wants to place a set of baits with a special gel to kill them. “If the plan is not properly executed, then in 10 years time, Oahu will be like the Big Island, and there will be ants everywhere,” he warned.

Dr. Vanderwoude will continue to work with the Agriculture Department to come up with a plan to deal with the infestation. He and the department hope to go back into the field in a couple of weeks to treat the area, which could take a year to complete, followed by two to three years of monitoring to make sure the ants in Waimanalo are eliminated.

KHON2 asked key lawmakers how they viewed the Agriculture Department officials plea for help, including that canine detection unit, which would be a one-year pilot project.

“They can expect a lot of support,” said Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment. “We, both chambers, recognize the importance of getting money to the folks trying to keep these critters out of Hawaii.”

“We can stop this, we can start right now,” said Rep. Chris Lee, who represents the Waimanalo and Kailua communities. “I’m in support. We’re all in support.”