Plants with Little Fire Ants Intercepted Prior to Punahou Carnival Plant Sale

Posted on Feb 2, 2024 in Main

Feb. 2, 2024

HONOLULU –  Plants containing little fire ants (LFA) were intercepted prior to the plant sale at the Punahou Carnival yesterday. The Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) isolated about 400 plants that were donated for the carnival. None of the suspect plants were sold to the public. In an abundance of caution, the carnival will not open the plant sale today, but may open tomorrow pending a LFA survey tomorrow morning.

Yesterday, a staff member from the O‘ahu Invasive Species Committee was conducting surveys for LFA and other invasive pests at the plant sale site and detected LFA. A report was made to the Hawai‘i Ant Lab, which then notified the HDOA. Entomologists from HDOA’s Plant Pest Control (PPC) and Plant Quarantine (PQ) Branches, and a team of PQ agriculture inspection staff, were immediately dispatched to the site and confirmed LFA on a comingled shipment of donated plants from several O‘ahu nurseries. The plants had been aggregated at one site before being transported to the school grounds. Surveys continued through yesterday and the plants in that particular shipment were removed and isolated at a separate site pending treatment and will not be offered for sale.

Staff from the PPC conducted additional surveys this morning and did not detect LFA in the plant sale area. However, the school has voluntarily decided to suspend plant sales, pending the results of tomorrow’s survey. The school also plans to help disseminate informational material on LFA to fairgoers.

“Mahalo to Punahou School for taking precautions and helping to ensure that plants available at the carnival are free of little fire ants and other pests,” said Sharon Hurd, chairperson of the Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture. “We appreciate the school’s concern and exemplary cooperation in helping to stop the spread of invasive pests.”

HDOA PQ staff have already begun following up with the nurseries involved in the shipment to try to determine the origin of the LFA-infested plants.

In 2019, a resident who had purchased a plant at the carnival reported that it was infested with LFA a month after the carnival. Since then, the school has allowed pre-sale surveys to detect any invasive pests on plants for sale.

LFA was first detected in the state on Hawai‘i Island in 1999 and has since been detected on O‘ahu, Maui, and Kaua‘i.

Originally from South America, LFA are considered among the world’s worst invasive species. LFA are tiny ants, measuring 1/16th inch long, and reddish-orange in color. LFA move slowly when they are not disturbed, unlike the tropical fire ant, which is established in Hawai‘i, 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 –
808-643-PEST (7378).

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