Invasive ants are wreaking havoc on the Hawaiian Islands.
David Moverly, the Invasive Species Advisor for the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program in Samoa and manager of the Hawai’i Ant Lab in Hilo, is part of a global movement to manage and prevent the spread of invasive species. One invasive species he is concerned about is the Little Fire Ant, which is prevalent on the Hawaiian islands.
It’s a huge risk, and it can be very bad on many levels. Not just for the environment. It basically drives wildlife from their home.
Little Fire Ants are biters—they liberally attack animals and people they intersect with, leaving painful, stinging welts on their victims. The pain associated with the bites is usually delayed, making it difficult to quickly get out of harm’s way.
Moverly explains that Little Fire Ants fall out of trees, landing on their unsuspecting victims. The presence of Little Fire Ants in Hawaii’s native forests has changed a once pleasant passage through beautiful vegetation into a terrifying gauntlet resulting in painful welts.
The ants have also infiltrated agricultural fields. Their presence in the fields has brought about unprecedented risk in planting, tending, and harvesting crops. Local people on Pacific Islands rely on agriculture and are faced with the dismal choices of either tolerating Little Fire Ant stings or moving somewhere else.
It makes the land really hard to work. If you can imagine trying to harvest your taro and other crops while you’re getting stung all the time.
Ants and other small invasive species are primarily brought to foreign environments through transportation of plants across borders. Moverly advises:
Check any plants you move. Wash them before moving them. If you see anything new or strange, report it to the Department of Agriculture or to quarantine. Be sure to declare risky items coming into country.
Ants aren’t the only problem in the Pacific. Larger predators like invasive mongooses, Brown Tree Snakes, and rats present serious threats to native wildlife. The effects of invasive species cascade throughout the islands. Their impacts break down and weaken ecosystems, putting some native species at risk of extinction. Moverly notes:
Invasive species have got to become everyone’s responsibility…Basically, the best thing the Pacific can do for climate change, in my opinion, is to make sure their ecosystems are resilient, that they are strong, that they can provide and adapt during these big changes that are happening to us.
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