HONOLULU (KHON2) — Findings from a new study reveal that invasive ants are threatening the state’s endangered Hawaiian yellow-faced bees.

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It’s the subject of a new paper being published in the open-access journal, NeoBiota

Ants are an example of invasive species that often have adverse and catastrophic impacts on Hawaiian ecosystems and wildlife, including native insects like Hawaiian yellow-faced bees.

The importance of saving these insects is crucial as less than 5% of insects in Hawaiian coastal areas are native to the islands, state officials said in a news release Thursday.

Hawaiian yellow-faced bees, once abundant in coastal areas, are one of a very few native insects that survive in lowland parts of the islands. The bees persist in healthy populations in only a few areas on Oahu.

A female yellow-faced bee is seen with two invasive ants behind. The ants kill the bee larvae in their nests and eat the same food as yellow-faced bees. Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Researchers with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Coastal Program said the majority of the 63 known species of the endangered bees have experienced significant declines in range and population. Many have not been seen in recent years. 

 “Invasive ants are one of a multitude of threats this species faces. You can help protect our native bees by protecting coastal vegetation and staying on trails, keeping motorized vehicles off the vegetation, and not using coastal vegetation and coral rubble for fires or fire pits – they may contain yellow-faced bee nests,” USFWS Pacific Islands Coastal Program Coordinator Sheldon Plentovich said. “There are ongoing opportunities to get involved and help the bees by volunteering with invasive species control programs and coastal restoration projects. Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are Hawaii’s only native bees and it is important we work together to protect them.”

Yellow crazy ants investigate a nesting block. Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service