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Little Fire Ants Found On Plant Sold At Punahou Carnival

Hawaii Department of Agriculture

A Kaimuki resident reported that she and her infant were stung by Little Fire Ants last week. They noticed the ants were crawling on the nightstand where a staghorn fern was placed. The plant was purchased last month at the Punahou Carnival.

The resident collected samples the ants and brought them to the state Department of Agriculture, where state entomologists confirmed they were Little Fire Ants. Other plants that the resident purchased at the carnival were also checked, but no LFA were detected. The fern was bagged and frozen to destroy the ants.

Officials notified Punahou School and the carnival coodrinators of the incident. And staff from teh Hawaii Ant Lab surveyed the grounds of the school, where plants were staged and sold. No LFA were detected.

Officials with the state Department of Agriculture are asking residents who purchased plants at the carnival to check their plants for the ants.

"The department is urging those who purchased plants at the carnival to do a simple bait test with some peanut butter to check their plants for the presence of little fire ants," said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, acting chairperson of the DOA. "It is also a good practice for all residents in uninfested areas to periodically check their properties for these invasive ants."

Credit Department of Agriculture
Staghorn Fern

The department is also working with carnival coordinators to try to determine where the plant in question came from, and if other types of plants were also donated. The resident reported that there was at least one other staghorn fern that was next to the one she purchased.

Agriculture officials would like to hear from the donor of those plants so that staff can survey that area for LFA  infestation. Department staff is also conducting a survey at a location where remaining plants fromt eh sale are being maintained.

Those who have donated plants or have concerns about purchasing plants at the carnival may contact the Department of Agriculture's Plant Pest Control Branch at (808) 973-9538.

LFA is considered among the world's worst invasive species. They are tiny ants, measuring 1/16th inch long, and pale orange in color. The ants move slowly, unlike the tropical fire ant, which is established in Hawaii, can move quickly, and is much larger with a larger head in proportion to its body. LFA can produce painful stings and large red welts, and may cause blindness in pets. They can build up very large colonies on the ground, in trees and other vegetation, and inside buildings and homes, and can completely overrun a property.

Suspected invasive species should be reported to the state's toll-free PEST HOTLINE - 643-7378. More information can be found at http://www.littlefireants.com

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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