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At The Butterfly Grove, we don't normally like to be downers, but we thought since we were all about bugs, we needed to bring to light a current issue that we are facing here on our Hawaiian Islands. We love bugs, but not when they are popping up where they don't belong. Across Hawaii we are experiencing the spread of the Little Fire Ants. The Butterfly Grove recently took part in a massive effort to test various of our island for the little fire ants.
We've had the tropical fire ants here since about the 1940's, but recently we've had a new invasive species knows as The Little Fire Ant. These guys can be red, yellow or tan, about half the size of the tropical fire ant and have massive colonies. There have been a few cases where the colonies went undetected until there were sudden population explosions and people have had to evacuate their houses. Their stings can cause burning rash like bites all over your body.
So why is it bad?
- The spread of these fire ants is a threat to the tourist industry here in Hawaii, which is really our main source of commerce.
- In Hawaii we have a lot of farming. The spread of these ants affect the farmers. It also affects many of the organic farms here on the islands. If the organic farms are invaded by the fire ants, the only recourse is to spray, which will cause the organic farms to lose their organic status.
- Since they are an invasive species, this means that they can and will cause a competition for resources for our native insects, such as the Kamehameha Butterfly.
- In Florida, the little fire ants have stung the nesting turtles, which could be a huge problem for our turtles here in Hawaii, which are already battling tumors that have popped up in recent history.
- The native sea birds here in Hawaii nest on the ground, making them targets of the little fire ants. Our native birds are already endangered, and these ants could further devastate our native bird population.
If you live on Hawaii, what can you do?
You can personally test your home and nearby areas. It's as simple as putting out peanut butter laden popsicle sticks for about 45 minutes. They like bushes and damp areas. Send in suspicious ants remember, they are tiny - and they can be red, yellow or tan) still on their sticks in a ziplock bag.
Samples can be sent to the following :
- Kauai: 4398A Pua Loke St., Lihue, HI 96766
- Oahu: 1428 S. King St., Honolulu, HI 96814
- Maui: 635 Mua St., Kahului, HI 96732
- Molokai: C/O The Nature Conservancy, 23 Pueo Pl., Kaunakakai, HI 96748
- Hawaii Island: Hawaii Ant Lab / HDOA, 16 E. Lanikaula St. Hilo, HI 96720
A child once answered the question, "What is a skeleton?" this way: "A skeleton is a person with the inside outside and the outside off." So maybe we can describe a bug like this: "It's an animal with the inside outside and the inside in." Bugs are all characterized as "exoskeletons" - their skeletons are on the outside. This exoskeleton is made of a hard substance called "chitin" which provides protection for the bug's inside and prevents the bug from drying out. This exoskeleton is divided into jointed segments, each of which has pairs of appendages like legs, wings, antennae, etc. In fact, bugs tend to be pretty flexible because they are full of joints. Scientists call the whole bunch of them "arthropods", because their legs, "pods", are jointed, "arthro". Bugs are pretty small so it's hard to get a refined picture just by looking at them, but you can get a better idea about their joints by looking at some of their cousins like crabs and lobsters. A lobster is jointed all over, not just the legs, but the whole body, as well as their antennae.
Most bugs are jointed in their bodies too. And their bodies are divided into three parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. The majority of them have their thoraxes divided into three parts as well, each having a pair of legs and a pair of wings on the second and third parts of the thorax.
Their heads sport a pair of antennae, jointed, of course, and two sets of eyes (at least), one set being a pair of bubbles made up of many eyes. And naturally a mouth, which has jaws moving sideways, not up and down.
Complicated! Yet so small! And so old! Way more than six thousand years old. More like 350 million years! Man has been walking the earth only a small fraction of that time.
And many! God must certainly love bugs because He made so many of them. There are about 900,000 species of them that are known and probably three or four times as many yet unknown. They make up about 80% of all living animals. But they aren't everywhere. Not in the deep oceans and hardly any in polar regions or in hot springs. But I think we all agree: there are enough.
But where they are, they are everywhere! Being so small, they can exploit and often take over many nooks and crannies ("niches") in the forest, the jungle, the basement, the garage, the pantry, the bed, etc.
That's the bug, overall. But there's a lot, lot more. And then many different kinds. And oh yes! The Butterfly!