Each year, over a million flights are landing in Hawaiʻi or taking off to other destinations. As global movement of people and goods to Hawaiʻi increases, so do the chances of an alien species hitching a ride to our beautiful islands. According to the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS), an average of 20 new insects become established in our islands annually, half of which are known pests elsewhere in the world. These pests have the potential to cause grave harm to Hawaiʻi’s natural environment, economy, human health, and way of life. The Māmalu Poepoe Project, administered by the Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council, brings multiple agencies together to enhance monitoring of airport facilities statewide. Māmalu Poepoe, which means the sphere of protection, aims to increase surveillance of select high priority pest species that are known to be traveling around the world that are at risk for accidental delivery to Hawaii.
As one of the participating agencies in Māmalu Poepoe, BIISC monitors detection stations for Africanized honey bees and coconut rhinoceros beetles at the Hilo and Kona airports. Both of these species, if introduced, pose significant threats to Hawaiʻi Island.
Africanized honey bees (AHB), commonly referred to as killer bees, are a major threat to human health and safety. Although AHB look the same as domestic honey bees, they are extremely aggressive when it comes to defending their hive. These bees attack in large groups and have been known to pursue their target for over two miles! Africanized bees are adapted to warm, tropical climates, with populations already established in the southern U.S and California. AHB swarm much more frequently than European honey bees, which increase the chances of accidental introduction to Hawaiʻi. AHB are also poor honey producers, which would directly affect local beekeepers.
AHB have already reached Hawaii’s shores in recent years: in 2011, harbor employees in Honolulu noticed a swarm of bees in a container of medical supplies shipped from Long Beach, California. They closed the container and contacted the Department of Agriculture, who fumigated the container and sent the bees off for genetic testing. They turned out to be Africanized bees. If AHB successfully establish populations in Hawaiʻi, it will devastate the agricultural industry. Hawaiʻi’s beekeeping industry is valued at $230 million a year and also functions as the backbone for mainland U.S. pollination, which is valued at $15 billion per year. Hawaiʻi is home to the most prolific queen bee producers in the world, providing 25% of mainland U.S. queens and 75% of Canada’s queens. Increased monitoring efforts are vital given the number of imported goods that arrive in Hawaiʻi every day. Our early detection crew monitors swarm traps set up at Hilo and Kona airports on a monthly basis in an effort to intercept AHB and prevent populations from establishing in the islands.
Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles
The coconut rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros) is an invasive insect currently found only on Oʻahu. CRB was detected at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam military facility in December of 2013. This beetle is native to the Asian tropics but has been accidentally introduced to western and central Pacific islands. CRB is considered a major pest of the coconut tree; however it can also be found attacking betelnut, Pandanus species, banana, pineapple, and sugarcane. The beetle attacks coconut palms by boring into the center of the tree crown and feeding on the sap, which damages the young growing tissue. The damage can significantly reduce coconut production and kill the tree. In other areas of the Pacific such as Palau, coconut palms were eradicated entirely on certain islands because of CRB damage.
The coconut rhino beetle poses a significant threat to our only native and endangered tree palms, also known as Loulu (Pritchardia spp.). In addition to environmental impacts if beetle populations are largely established, Hawaiʻi’s tourism industry would also be impacted. Coconut palms are economically important as they are frequently used in landscaping and they also have significant cultural importance. One way to tell if a tree has CRB damage is to look for V-shaped cuts in the palm fronds. Another way to determine CRB damage is if large boreholes are present at the bottom of palm fronds. Our Early Detection team monitors CRB panel traps at both Hilo and Kona airports on a monthly basis in order to intercept and eradicate the beetle if introduced to Hawaiʻi Island.
If you suspect the presence of Africanized honeybees or Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles in your area, please report it! Report particularly aggressive hives, feral or managed, to Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture’s Hawaiʻi Apiary Program at (808) 974-4138. Report suspected CRB damage to BIISC at (808)933-3340 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ants have been particularly successful at spreading around the globe. One major reason is because these tiny creatures hitchhike on our stuff. Ants are not native to Hawaiʻi, however there are roughly 57 ant species that have become established in the islands. Troublesome ant species, such as little fire ants or big-headed ants, negatively impact our environment, economy, and way of life. There is a lack of predators in Hawaiʻi to keep ants in check, which allows the potential for populations to reach very high densities. Many of our native ground nesting seabirds, for example, are significantly impacted by invasive ants. Yellow crazy ants spray formic acid on a bird’s eyes, bill, and feet causing blindness, malformities, difficulty breathing, and loss of webbing on feet. Little fire ants have infested agricultural fields and farms on Hawaiʻi island where they are damaging crops and stinging workers. Residents and tourists alike continue to get stung at public beaches and parks.
The Māmalu Poepoe project aims to increase surveillance to address the potential introduction and establishment of an even worse ant species, the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta). Red-imported fire ants (RIFA) are not currently present in Hawaiʻi but have been infesting countries around the world at a rapid rate, making them a high priority species to be on the lookout for. These mound building ants deliver painful stings to humans that produce a range of reactions from localized pain and swelling to anaphylaxis. RIFA are considered a major pest worldwide and are well established in the southeastern US. The Hawaiʻi Ant Lab, another project of the University of Hawaii, assists with regular ant surveys at major airport facilities throughout the islands. If this ant species is introduced and detected early, ant populations can be eradicated in a timely, cost effective manner.
The Hawaii Ant Lab regularly monitors airports and harbors on the Big Island, Oahu, and Maui for new invasive ants. If you find a strange ant in your yard, report it to BIISC or contact 643-PEST.
Mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases
Mosquitoes, notorious for delivering irritating, itchy bites, are a widespread nuisance to humans. These pesky insects arrived in Hawaiʻi on foreign ships by way of infested drinking water barrels back in the 1800ʻs. The Culex mosquito, introduced in 1826, became the vector that spread avian pox and malaria to our Hawaiian forest birds. Today, our remaining forest birds exist mostly in high-elevation refuges where mosquitoes are unable to breed.
Currently, there are 6 species of biting mosquitoes that are established in Hawaiʻi. Mosquitoes pose significant threats to human health as vectors for diseases such as Dengue Fever, Zika, and Chikungunya. The Māmalu Poepoe project focuses on enhancing airport monitoring for existing and new species of mosquitoes known to vector these potentially deadly diseases. The yellow fever mosquito, currently present on Hawaiʻi Island, (Aedes aegypti) is a vector of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika virus. The Department of Health monitors airports across the state for potential introductions of the yellow fever mosquito or other new mosquito species.