KAHULUI, Maui — Maui officials say fire ants pose a significant threat to the island even though fewer have been seen since the start of this year.
Public complaints about the invasive insects have slowed since January, the Maui News reported Thursday.
Maui Invasive Species Committee Manager Teya Penniman said officials will be in watch mode on an ongoing basis because the ants will keep coming from the Big Island unless they’re stopped.
“The reality is they’re out there,” Penniman said. “We just don’t know where they are.”
An infestation at Maui garden shops in December was traced back to shipments of Hawaiian tree ferns at two home improvement stores. Customers who bought the plants were asked to check their homes for the ants.
The ants have been a problem on the Big Island for 15 years. They threaten agriculture and tourism.
State lawmakers are considering spending $500,000 to eradicate the fire ant using several methods, including canines to detect the insects.
Penniman said specialists from Australia are expected to come in May to share their techniques with the dogs.
She said people need to be careful about what they bring to Maui from the Big Island.
“We really need to keep that awareness up long term,” Penniman said. “You have to pay attention to what you buy, ask where it came from, ask what they have done to test it (for fire ants).”
Eight state inspectors on Maui have been focused on detecting the insects in shipments.