Little Fire Ants Found on Plant Sold at Punahou Carnival

Posted on Mar 1, 2019 in Main

March 1, 2019

Plant Buyers Asked to Check Their Plants

HONOLULU – The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) is asking those who purchased plants at the Punahou Carnival to check their plants for little fire ants (LFA) after the stinging ants were found on a staghorn fern that was sold at the carnival on Feb. 2nd.

A resident in Kaimuki reported that she and her infant were stung while they were in bed last week. A staghorn fern purchased at the Punahou Carnival had been placed on a nightstand next to the bed and the resident noticed tiny ants crawling on the nightstand. She collected samples and brought them to HDOA on Feb. 25th. The ants were confirmed as LFA by state entomologists. The staghorn plant was bagged and frozen to destroy any ants. Other plants that the resident purchased at the carnival were also checked and no LFA were detected. The nightstand area was the only place in the home where LFA were found.

Officials at Punahou School and the carnival coordinators were contacted and are fully cooperating with HDOA. Yesterday afternoon, staff the Hawaii Ant Lab (HAL) conducted a survey for LFA in the areas where the plants were staged and sold and no LFA were detected.

“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 Hawaii Department of Agriculture. “It is also a good practice for all residents in uninfested areas to periodically check their properties for these invasive ants.”

“Punahou’s highest priority is the safety and well-being of our community,” said Robert Gelber, Director of Communications for Punahou Schools. “We are grateful for HDOA’s partnership in tracking down the source of the LFA and encourage the donor of this particular plant to reach out to Punahou or HDOA officials as soon as possible. We would also like to thank the many donors who contributed to this year’s carnival and appreciate their attention to this matter.”

HDOA 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. HDOA would like to hear from the donor of those plants so that staff can survey that area for LFA infestation. HDOA staff is also conducting a survey at a location where remaining plants from the sale are being maintained. Those who have donated plants or have concerns about purchasing plants at the carnival may contact HDOA’s Plant Pest Control Branch at (808) 973-9538.

“The main factor in the spread of little fire ants is movement by humans,” said Kevin Hoffman, administrator of HDOA’s Plant Industry Division. “Learning from this particular situation, we hope that all coordinators of other plant sales establish a standard practice to test the plants prior to the sale.”

Anyone moving plants or outdoor material, especially from Hawaii Island where LFA is widely established, should take extra measures to ensure that LFA are not hitchhiking. It is also a good practice to quarantine any new plants and test them for LFA before moving them into your home or garden.

HDOA, HAL and partner agencies, including the Invasive Species Committees on Oahu, Kauai, and Maui County and the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS) have been asking residents on Oahu, Kauai and Maui County to survey their properties for LFA by using a little peanut butter on a chopstick and leave them in several areas for about one hour. Any ants collected should be put in a sealable plastic bag, placed in the freezer for at least 24 hours and dropped off or mailed to any HDOA office. An informational flyer may be downloaded at:

In addition, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has produced a three-minute video, “How to Test for LFA,” which shows the step-by-step procedure for testing for LFA. The video is available at:

Originally from South America, LFA is considered among the world’s worst invasive species. LFA are tiny ants, measuring 1/16th inch long, and pale orange in color. LFA 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 completely overrun a property.

Suspected invasive species should be reported to the state’s toll-free PEST HOTLINE – 643-PEST (7378). For more information on LFA in Hawaii, go to the HAL website at:

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Staghorn Fern purchased at the carnival LFA on peanut butter chopstick test
Staghorn Fern purchased at the carnival LFA on peanut butter chopstick test