Fire Ants in Vanuatu Go back

About Fire Ants
There are several different species of Fire Ants and most are native to South America. They are called Fire Ants because their venom, injected by a stinger like a wasp or bee, creates a burning sensation. Fire Ants are aggressive, preferring to fight rather than flee, when disturbed.

Fire ants are invasive species in many regions around the world. The Little Fire Ant, Wasmannia auropunctata, was first found in the Pacific more than 35 years ago. Since then it has been reported from the Galapagos, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, Solomon Islands, Hawaii, Tuvalu, Fiji and Vanuatu.

W. auropunctata is omnivorous and exclusionary. It has been blamed for reducing species diversity, reducing abundance of flying and tree-dwelling insects and eliminating spider populations.

In disturbed areas and in exotic habitats, W. auropunctata commonly shows population explosions. In many areas it is a serious agricultural pest: stinging people, enhancing populations of honeydew secreting insects and interfering with parasitisation of pest insects. Documented benefits of Wasmannia to agriculture in pest control are few and are outweighed by the negative impacts.

W. auropunctata also attacks vertebrates. On the Galapagos, it eats at the hatchlings of tortoises and attacks the adult tortoises. In the Pacific it has been reported to attack the eyes of dogs, causing blindness.

W. auropunctata workers are very small ants, about 2mm in length and light brown to golden brown in colour. Colonies can be found around tree stumps and at the base of posts. Worker ants commonly crawl up trees and posts in search of food, including beds! It's quite annoying to wake up in the night with fire ants biting.

Fire Ants in Vanuatu
It is said that fire ants were introduced to Vanuatu from the Solomon Islands in the 1990s by an Anglican Church Mission boat, the Southern Cross, importing timber to Vanua Lava for a Diocese building. Fire ant infestations in Vanuatu today are tabulated below. Two places where tourists are likely to visit and therefore encounter fire ants are Sola and Mota Lava.

Island Distribution Infestation Reference
Vanua Lava Sola Abundant Personal observation
(2004, 2009).
  East Vanua Lava Locally present Local sources (2009).
  Mosina Present Local sources (2004).
Mota Lava West Mota Lava Present Personal observation
  East Mota Lava Locally present Local sources (2009).
  Ra Island Locally present Local sources (2014).
Mota Widespread Abundant Local sources (2004).
Gaua Aworu School Present Local sources (2004).
  Tarasar Present Local sources (2004).
Santo Luganville, showground Present? Local sources (2009).

Fire ants are spreading in Vanuatu and local communities do not have the know-how and resources to control or eradicate fire ants. Public awareness of fire ants is poor and almost zero outside of infested areas.

Advice for Travellers
If visiting a fire ant infected area, you might want to use some household insecticide spray and apply it to the bed posts before retiring for the night. You can buy insect sprays in Sola.

Don't spray extensively all about or spray the nests as this may actually result in the spreading of fire ants through workers moving queens to new locations to escape the disturbance. Efforts to reduce or eradicate fire ant infestations may do more harm than good and are best left to experts. Personal insect repellents (mosquito repellents) are not effective in repelling fire ants.

When leaving a fire ant infested area, don't carry any high risk materials (soil, plants, baskets of alean kaekae that have been in contact with fire ant infested ground). Make sure your luggage is clean.

Fire Ant Links
If researching fire ants on the web, keep in mind that there are several different species with different biology and management strategies. There's a lot of information about the Red Imported Fire Ant Solenopsis invicta but less about the Little Fire Ant Wasmannia auropunctata.

Global Invasive Species Database
This online database is comes under the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group. You can search the database for W. auropunctata.

Last updated: May 2014 by Stephen.

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