We live in Kailua-Kona, HI and have tiny, and I mean tiny, red ants inside of our home recently, and we are unsure what they are looking for, what they like to feed on, and are also wondering how to control them. We keep our kitchen counters spotless, but they are all over the counters, and while watering an indoor plant today, the soil exploded with these ants. Also, after opening the top to our coffee maker this morning, there were hundreds and hundreds of these ants inside, so it seems that they like moisture, maybe for nesting.
Any assistance you may provide would be appreciated.
Aloha! We are sorry to hear you are having an ant problem in your home and have contacted an expert on Hawaiian ants, Dr. Paul Krushelnycky, and here is what he had to say:
As I'm sure you know, keeping your home completely free of ants is difficult in Hawaii. You're already doing one of the most important practices, which is keeping your kitchen clean and reducing sources of attraction. But you're right that often water is the main target, especially during dry periods and in dry areas like Kona, and its hard to do much about that. Your ants are most likely one of two species: Plagiolepis alluaudi (doesn't seem to have a commonly used common name) or the little fire ant, Wasmannia auropunctata. The latter is much more problematic than the former; you've probably already heard a lot about this species in the local media. Its now widespread in the Puna area of the island, but has recently also been detected at several locations on the Kona side.
Normally I'd recommend using a sugar-water based bait, like Terro, to reduce and hopefully eliminate new and/or small infestations. However, while this is probably the best approach for Plagiolepis alluaudi and some other household pest species, if you have an infestation of little fire ants, Wasmannia auropunctata, you'll want to do your best to eradicate them before they get too established in your home and on your property. Otherwise, you'll have to deal with a species that can reach very high densities and inflict constant, irritating stings. While the stings aren't as sharp and immediately painful as the tropical fire ants (Solenopsis geminata) we have in sunny coastal areas, they can cause a persistant painful and/or itching reaction that can last for hours or in some cases days. Some people have stronger reactions than others. If you've already noticed something along these lines, then you may have little fire ants. (A close-up photo of some workers might allow an identification, if in focus). The potted plant you mention could have been the source of introduction - colonies are easily spread this way. Did you recently purchase the plant, and did this roughly coincide with your new ant infestation? If so, eradicating the colony could be as easy as drowning it in the pot, using hot water, if they are indeed nesting in the soil. But if they are nesting in other or multiple locations, you'll need to bait them to get rid of them. If they're already widespread, eradication may be unlikely.
I can address additional questions you might have, but I would also encourage you to visit the website: https://www.littlefireants.com/ Its an excellent resource maintained by Cas Vanderwoude, a specialist on invasive ants who currently works with the state and is based in Hilo (I'm on Oahu). He focuses on little fire ants, and I believe has been trying to deal with some of the Kona sites. His website has a lot of information that can help you determine whether you indeed have little fire ants, general info about this and other species, and most importantly recommendations on how to control them. Cas has been working on developing baits specifically for this species. There is also a google-based email list for discussing little fire ants and invasive ants in Hawaii in general. Instructions for signing up are on the website."
In addition you can see a list of the ants of Hawaii with high-resolution photographs for most species here: https://www.antweb.org/hawaii.jsp
I hope this helps,
Paul Krushelnycky, Corrie Moreau, & the AntAsk Team