Guam – A colony of “little fire ants” has been found on Guam and according to University of Guam entomologist Ross Miller this could be the makings of an ecological disaster on par with the invasion of the brown tree snake.
“We have been on the look-out for Wasmannia auropunctata since 2007 with surveillance projects on Guam and in the CNMI. This ant has caused ecological devastation in Hawaii, New Caledonia and the Australian government has spent over 12 million dollars in attempts to eradicate an infestation in Cairns and Brisbane,” says Miller.
[ Little fire ants found on plants at Primos Northern Hardfill. Photo courtesy of UOG Entomology Lab]
The ant was found by staff of the Guam Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Eradication Project at Primos Northern Hardfill for organic materials located on the back road to Andersen. “Workers were being bitten by the ants as they off-loaded debris at the dump. CRB Director Roland Quituqua brought in a sample to our lab and Maia Raymundo identified them as the little fire ant,” says Miller. “This identification has since been confirmed by ant experts in Hawaii, and we are now trying to identify the extent of the infestation on Guam.”
This tiny non-descript ant can be found on the underside of leaves, in the ground or in treetops eating other insects, snails, geckos, baby chicks, whatever they find in their paths. They can potentially turn an area into an ecological wasteland. If people brush against infested plants, hundreds of the tiny ants will soon be stinging them before they know it. While the sting of an individual ant is not in itself painful, the ants sting en masse which may cause persistent, intense itching and a rash.
Dr. Miller is hopeful that the public will respond to this all points bulletin and be on the lookout for the ants. “We are counting on the cooperation of the public to find out how extensive the little fire ant is on Guam. If you have been stung or have seen small yellow or reddish to golden brown ants in your yard or ranch please do collect a sample to help us find them,” says Miller.
People can bring ant samples to UOG College of Natural and Applied Sciences Dean’s office during weekday business hours. It is important that the ants are placed in a container with a tight fitting lid, preferably in alcohol, and labeled with the person’s name, phone number and the location where it was collected.
UOG scientists are working with Russ Campbell, Guam’s territorial entomologist to mount a campaign to contain this latest invasive species to land on Guam. Ant samples may also be taken to Dr. Campbell’s office at the Plant Inspection Station on Tiyan. His number is 472-5812 extension 15. Dr. Ross Miller may be contacted at UOG at 735-2141.