Little Fire Ant Problem? Coquis to the Rescue!

Feb 27, 2014 | Updated Apr 21, 2014

It's great news that the Hawaii legislature is taking the little fire ant problem seriously. This noxious species is a real pest that deserves attention. It lives on the ground where it can sting cattle and horses and dogs, and even cause blindness in pets, and it also lives up in the tops of trees where they can rain down on people as they walk underneath or pick fruit.

This is a true pest, unlike cattle egrets and barn owls, which the government also wants to eradicate. Little Fire Ants are also not like strawberry guava, a fruit tree that is targeted by the government for eradication using a biocontrol scale insect attack; or delicious banana poka, a passionfruit relative that is being destroyed by application of a biocontrol fungus; or mangrove trees, shoreline protectors and fish nurseries that were poisoned by herbicide by local "environmentalists," assisted by the government and Monsanto and BASF, and left to rot along the shoreline. Strawberry guava, banana poka and mangrove trees are all useful and beneficial species that admittedly needed control, and would have been tolerated had they been native species. However, since they were brought to Hawaii by human assistance, they are considered "invasive species" which "don't belong" in Hawaii, and are used, not for the natural functions which they offer, but to attract funding for their destruction.

So it is refreshing when the government actually gives some attention to a real pest, one that we would want to kill, regardless of where it comes from. If little fire ants were "native," they would still deserve our wrath. They would still sting and hurt. And while some hardcore biologists and environmentalists might argue to save them because, if they were native, they would "belong" in Hawaii, most sensible people would still call for their eradication.

As scientists try to discover ways to battle this stinging ant, they will research different chemical and biological control methods. Fortunately, we already have in Hawaii an excellent biocontrol for these terrible ants. It's a predator of all types of ants and lives up in the treetops, where the little fire ants also live. It is a voracious insect predator and enjoys our climate and does very well here. Scientists at Utah State University have studied this insect predator and have found over 50 fire ants in the stomach contents of one of the subjects. A Kehei plant nurseryman told me he had had a fire ant infestation that was gone once these predators moved in.

But there's a catch. This fire ant predator is not native to Hawaii, and has itself been the subject of a multi-million dollar eradication campaign that still diverts much of the funding for invasive species control. It also sings at night, which disturbs some residents, although the sound is also loved by many residents who live with these animals and by the millions of people who enjoy these animals in their native country.

It's the coqui tree frog.

Of course, since the coqui is the poster child for invasive species in Hawaii, it will be politically incorrect to tell the public that these frogs may help reduce fire ants on your property. You can never say anything positive about a species once it is labeled "invasive." It becomes the enemy of the state, and nothing it does can be considered beneficial. Same story with the strawberry guava, banana poka and mangrove. This dogmatic, black-and-white approach is not only ridiculous and unscientific, it is also environmentally harmful and wasteful of our natural resources.

Naturally, coquis will not eradicate the ants, only control them, the same with all biocontrol agents. But we need all the help we can get, even if it comes from Puerto Rico.