September is Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Christy Martin, (808) 722-0995
PIO Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, Botany
David Duffy, (808) 956-8218
Professor of Botany; PCSU Unit Leader, Botany
Posted: Sep 2, 2015

From left, David Duffy, Randy Bartlett, Governor Ige, Scott Enright and Erin Bishop.
From left, David Duffy, Randy Bartlett, Governor Ige, Scott Enright and Erin Bishop.

Did you know that September is Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month in the City and County of Honolulu?  Several projects of the University of Hawaiʻi Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit (PCSU) are spearheading this little fire ant public awareness and community action campaign in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture (HDOA).  Funded by the Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council, the goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the little fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata) and to encourage all Oʻahu residents to test their yard for the presence of these tiny stinging ants. 

Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month comes at an opportune time. Last week, the Oʻahu ant team (comprised of staff from UH PCSU projects including the Hawaiʻi Ant Lab, Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee, Oʻahu Army Natural Resource Program, Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, and agency staff from the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources and HDOA), conducted follow-up surveys after a year of treating the known infestations on Oʻahu. 

One site was on an abandoned lot in Waimanalo, and the other spanned twenty adjoining properties in Mililani Mauka.  No little fire ants were found at either site, which means that they were either eradicated or, more likely, at undetectable levels. 

Both eradication programs will now move into the monitoring phase, where quarterly surveys will be conducted over the next three years to ensure that any remaining ants are found and treated.  Only after three fire-ant-free years can we celebrate.  This protocol of 8 to 10 treatments over the course of a year, followed by three years of monitoring, was established by the Hawaiʻi Ant Lab and proved successful in the eradication of little fire ants from a Maui farm in 2009. 

“Last year, a homeowner in Mililani Mauka took the time to test his yard for little fire ants.  He turned in the ant sample to HDOA for identification, and today that family and 19 of their neighbors are well on their way to being fire-ant free,” said Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee spokeswoman Erin Bishop.  “With this campaign, we hope to educate and empower people to protect their families from these horrible stinging ants.”

Little fire ants continue to spread on the Big Island, and every week HDOA inspectors intercept the ants in plants, cut flowers, fruit, and other materials shipped from infested areas to Oʻahu, Maui, and other islands.  What’s scary is that not all goods from infested areas are inspected, and sometimes the ants just don’t come out of hiding when inspectors are present.  The consensus is that there are more little fire ant infestations on Oʻahu, but it will take the public’s help to find them while they are still eradicable.   

“We do a lot of public outreach and we’ve found that many people have a false sense of security,” said Christy Martin, leader of the UH PCSU project called Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS).  “Oʻahu residents usually express relief that they don’t live in or near the known infestations.  But if you think about it, people living in the infestation zones are the only ones that are protected from little fire ants, at least for the three-year survey period.  Everyone else needs to survey their yard or property once each year, and turn in the ant samples to the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture so that we know where the little fire ants are, where they are not, and the areas that have not been surveyed at all.” 

As part of Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month, KSSK and other IHeartMedia radio stations are airing public service announcements and helping to host a Spot the Ant contest with prizes.  The Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee and their giant little fire ant will be showing up around Oʻahu, passing out free fire ant test kits, and residents can snap a photo and post it to Oʻahu contest page to be eligible for prizes.  Random prizes will also be given for submitting ant samples. 

Also during September, some Oʻahu public libraries are offering free fire ant test kits, and have drop boxes where zip-top bags of dead ants may be taken.  Those ants will be examined by HDOA, and individuals submitting samples will be notified of results.  If little fire ants are confirmed, help will be provided.  A list of participating libraries is available on the website.

“The staff at HDOA is amazing and they are doing a phenomenal job, but they have so few people, spread so thin,” said Dr. David Duffy, UHM Department of Botany and PCSU Unit Leader.  “This is a great example of the work that the University of Hawaiʻi participates in to assist agencies in protecting native species, public health, and our local economy.”

For more information on little fire ants, or activities on Oʻahu during Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant Month, visit, or on Facebook at Spot the Ant, Stop the Ant. 

(Full caption) At the state proclamation ceremony are, from left, Dr. David Duffy, UH Department of Botany and PCSU; Randy Bartlett, Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council; Governor David Ige; Scott Enright, Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture; a giant little fire ant; and Erin Bishop, Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee.

For more information, visit: