HONOLULU (AP) — An invasive species known as the yellow mad ant has been eradicated from a remote US atoll in the Pacific.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Wednesday that the ants have been successfully removed from the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
The ants hunt seabirds on the uninhabited atoll, preventing them from nesting on about 70 hectares of land.
“This is the first time an invasive ant species has been eradicated from such a large area of land in the United States,” said Kate Toniolo, superintendent of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, in a statement. “To ensure the eradication was successful, the teams searched for, monitored and studied yellow mad ants.”
For about a decade, ants have been threatening seabirds by swarming their nests — and everything else on the ground. The ants spray formic acid on the birds, causing injuries, including blindness and even death, Fish and Wildlife Service officials said.
Volunteers and federal employees formed Crazy Ant Strike Teams, which experimented with baiting and other techniques to get rid of the pests. After the teams killed the yellow mad ants, two dogs trained to sniff out the species were brought in to search the site. According to federal officials, the dogs sniffed nearly 120 miles without finding ants.
“While the Crazy Ant Strike Team mission is complete, the (US Fish and Wildlife) Service will continue to focus on habitat restoration and preventing the spread of other invasive species,” said Stefan Kropidlowski, assistant superintendent of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument . “Right now we are celebrating that the sanctuary is once again a safe haven for the amazing seabirds that call this incredible place home.”
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Johnston Atoll is a haven for tens of thousands of seabirds from 15 different species. It is home to the world’s largest colony of red-tailed tropicbirds and the only seabird habitat on over 570,000 square miles (almost 1.5 million square kilometers) of open ocean.
The yellow mad ant is native to Southeast Asia but was unintentionally introduced to other parts of the Pacific, including Hawaii.
Yellow mad ants “are a common and extremely harmful invasive ant. They have spread to all of Hawaii’s main islands, causing significant ecological damage to plants and animals, such as the endangered Hawaiian yellow-faced bee and nesting birds,” said Sheldon Plentovich, coordinator of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Coastal Program.
Plentovich said the ants didn’t make it as far as Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but they are “very good hitchhikers and we’re looking at biosecurity and surveillance for early detection inside the monument.”
Plentovich said that crazy ants got their name because of their quick and unpredictable movements, especially when disturbed.
Part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Johnston Atoll is one of the most isolated places on earth. It is approximately 820 miles (1,320 km) southwest of Honolulu.