Yellow crazy ants believed to be eradicated from atoll that houses threatened seabirds

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Following a lengthy 10-year effort, a notorious invasive species may have finally been eradicated from the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge is one of the most isolated atoll formations in the world, and is the only seabird habitat in over 570,000 square miles of open ocean, sustaining fifteen species of breeding birds that rely on the emergent land. But for over a decade, the birds were severely threatened by yellow ‘crazy’ ants, which swarm anything that’s on the ground and spray formic acid on seabird chicks and adults. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) says the acid can cause blindness, injury and death.

“Thanks to the brilliant work of these volunteers and staff, as well as the help of our partners, this is the first time an invasive ant species has been eradicated on such a large land area in the U.S,” said Kate Toniolo, Superintendent for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. “To ensure the eradication was successful, the teams have been monitoring, searching and surveying for yellow crazy ants. Their hard work, dedication and scientific rigor have helped us ensure a safer future for the tens of thousands of seabirds that rely on Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.” 

“While the mission of the Crazy Ant Strike Team is complete, the Service will continue to focus on habitat restoration, preventing the spread of other invasive species, and the conservation of the wildlife and habitat protected by Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge,” added Stefan Kropidlowski, Deputy Superintendent for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. “For now, we celebrate that the refuge is once again a safe haven for the amazing seabirds that call this incredible place home.” 

The presence of the ants and their threat to the seabirds on Johnston Island was discovered in 2010 by USFWS biologists. Nearly 100 staff and volunteers devoted over 130,000 field hours to get rid of these pests.

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