Unit 4: Fire Ants And The Future of Maui Wetlands
No ant species are native to Hawai’i. However, more than 40 species of ants have been collected here. Many of these have become naturalized and are now part of the islands’ ecosystems.
Among the pest ants that have not yet been discovered on the island of Maui are two species, both of which are referred to as “fire ants.” One species, the “little fire ant” (Wasmannia auropunctata), is established on the island of Hawai‘i but has not yet been found on Maui. The other, the “red imported fire ant” (Solenopsis invicta), has been spreading across the continental United States since the 1930s but has not yet been discovered in Hawai’i. Many people believe that the red imported fire ant is very likely to become the next severe pest invasion in Hawai’i unless dramatic steps are taken to prevent its arrival and establishment.
This unit engages students in efforts at early detection of these pest species on Maui, and challenges them to help minimize the potential threat to wetlands and endangered species here by developing a prevention and action plan.
Length of Entire Unit
Five class periods.
Pest ants and the threats they pose to native coastal ecosystems. Invasive species prevention and management.
No ant species are native to Hawai‘i, but many have become naturalized and are now part of the islands’ ecosystems. Among the pest ants that have not yet been discovered on the island of Maui are two species of “fire ants” known for their painful bite. Many people believe that one of these species, the red imported fire ant, is very likely to become the next severe pest invasion in Hawai‘i unless dramatic steps are taken to prevent its arrival and establishment.
Unit Focus Questions
- What threat could pest ants such as the red imported fire ant pose to native ecosystems once they become established on Maui?
- What biological and behavioral characteristics make the red imported fire ant a potential threat?
- How can people protect Maui and its natural areas from invasion by pests such as the red imported fire ant?
- DiscoverLife presents an illustrated interactive key to ants in Hawaiʻi. (This is perhaps the easiest key to use, because it’s non-linear: you can select any set of characters that are obvious to you about the ant in question and the key will narrow the search based on the information you have available.)
- Watch the video, Ants: Little Creatures that Run the World to become familiar with basic ant biology and behavior. (Video included with this curriculum, Alpine/Aeolian Unit 4 “Good Critters, Bad Critters.”)
- Research the native and migratory water birds that use Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and other Hawaiian wetlands. One good place to start is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Islands Ecoregion website. It includes information about threatened and endangered animals in the Hawaiian Islands.
- Extend the time available for students to develop their management plans, perhaps even over a period of several weeks. Require more in-depth research, and allow in-class time for students to share information and develop strategies. This will increase the likelihood that students will come up with useful and appropriate ideas for protecting Maui from the red imported fire ant.
- Put together one class proposal that draws together the best ideas from all of the small group plans. Present this proposal to the Ant Working Group. (Contact the Ant Working Group through Ellen VanGelder at 572-4472 or email@example.com.)
- Implement student ideas. Students can design ways to evaluate how effective these ideas are once they are put into action.
- Create a public service announcement, poster, or other educational materials about the red imported fire ant.
Resources for Further Reading
Ants: Little Creatures that Run the World, a NOVA video with E.O. Wilson (Video is included with Alpine/Aeolian Unit 4 “Good Critters, Bad Critters.”)
California Department of Food and Agriculture, “Red Imported Fire Ant Information”.
“Myrmecology”. Includes general background on ants and the study of ants as well as a variety of links to other ant-related sites.
Hawaiʻi Ecosystems at Risk, “Pest Ants in Hawaiʻi”.