Friday, August 23, 2013

Giant Ant Invasion in Hawaii

Every season we have an “adventure” with a new tropical bug or rodent that we have not encountered before. Recently, a new type of huge ant showed up on the walls and carpet. We are used to dealing with thick trails of ants emerging through a crack from the outside or running up a wall to food or some other attraction. But these ants had no interaction with each other and they appeared in strange places, like at the bottom of our coffee cup.  Every day the number of roaming ants increased around the house.  One day we found a dozen big ants floating in the water reservoir of our coffee maker and discovered a nest in the electrical compartment. The ant baits we regularly use to control other ants, have no effect on these huge ants.  Spraying Febreeze, which we have found to be a deterrent to many bugs, in particular the millipedes that invaded us last summer, also have no effect.

Our quarterly bug spraying, which we were hoping would get rid of the giant ants, began an all-out ant invasion.  A few hours after the spraying, the ants started coming out everywhere. They crawled up out of the thick wool carpet in the living room by the dozens and ran up the walls. Some were winged and flew upstairs. For days we wiped ants off the floor and vacuumed them off the rug. Every morning, while making morning coffee, we squished dozens on the kitchen floor. Since they never bit us, we could joke about them carrying us away.

After some research, we identified them as Hawaiian Carpenter Ants (Camponotus variegates).  Though carpenter ants on the mainland can cause as much damage as termites, Hawaiian carpenter ants do very little damage to wood. They just like living in wood, usually outside in tree stumps and rotting wood,  but they are happy to make nests in crevices, cabinets, cardboard boxes, and other locations indoors where they can find food and grease at night. 

Apparently, the appearance of six or more of the huge worker ants means a nest has been established and since we were seeing hundreds, we figured we were dealing with an entire colony with multiple queens laying eggs.  

Unfortunately spraying insecticide and killing the foraging worker ants does not get rid of the colony.  The only option is to directly spray the nest, assuming you can find it.  Even this approach is not successful unless the ants are trapped and cannot scurry away to a new location.  Even ant baits are usually ineffective with these type of ants.

We determined that most of the ants were coming from the kitchen near the refrigerator.  At certain times of the year, there are winged males and females that swarm and mate.  Worker ants take care of the eggs during the 20 days they take to hatch.  As the colonies develop, various sizes of workers are produced.  The small ants stay in the nest and the biggest ants protect the nest and look for food.  We found a pile of elongated, whitish eggs next to the refrigerator in a small crack in the floor.  We were able to vacuum the eggs up and spray the area. 

Since then the number of ants we had to squish has gone down every day and now they have disappeared.  We wonder what tropical bug we will “learn about” next. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Adventure on the Kings Trail in Waikoloa Beach

The ancient Hawaiian carved pictures and stone wind-breaks at the Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve in Kohala are advertised as a tourist attraction.  We thought it would be fun to take a leisurely walk on the King’s Trail to see the petroglyphs on a particularly clear and sunny day this week. We parked at the Kings Shops in Waikoloa Beach and after some searching found our way to the King’s Trail by taking a path along Kings Lake at the back of the shops.    The paved path along the lake ends on Pohakulana Place across from the Waikoloa Fairway Villa condos.  We crossed the street and entered the Kings Trail where a sign points the way.

The Kings Trail was built over older foot trails in the 1870’s during King Kalakaua’s reign.  It was used to drive cattle through the rough lava fields from the ranches to the shore to be loaded onto ships. It was built to be relatively straight and level with stone curbs on the edges to keep the cattle in.  The King used prisoners and people unable to pay their taxes to build the road.  The portion of the King’s Trail in Waikoloa Beach cuts across a lava field covered with carvings and lava caves surrounded by the Kings Course of the Waikoloa Beach golf club.

We walked a short section of the trail which intersects with the golf cart road. There were no carvings on that section and it would have been easier on our feet to have just walked next to it on Pohakulana Place (which becomes a golf cart road) to the next entrance. 

A sign indicated that the carvings and wind breaks were a distance down the Kings Trail.

A little way down the trail, it started to have no resemblance to a level path.  We wondered how cattle could have managed it.

The trail was very difficult to walk, the sun began to bake us on the lava field, and the wind was so strong we could not keep our hats on. We had good shoes and are in decent shape, but it was far from a leisurely walk at this point and we had yet to see a carving.

Within a thousand feet we had to start crawling on all fours to get down some extremely steep and jagged drops in the “trail”. Still no carvings.

We continued on, certain that this advertised tourist attraction must have petroglyphs somewhere.  We watched a young couple behind us turn back after giving up on the worst hazard of the trail and we were beginning to dread our walk back. 

Finally the petroglyphs, circles, dots, and surprisingly letters, came into view.

As we progressed, carvings in the pahoehoe lava become frequent.

The most common ancient carvings are dots, holes, and circles. These markings have various interpretations including representations for journeys and indications of children born.  

The age of the earliest of the carvings is estimated to be 800 AD when the Waikoloa area was first settled.

We were surprised to see names carved into the stone in between the circles and other designs.

Lava caves and stone wind breaks are located along the side of the trail.   

Our progress was slow along the path. The howling wind and the sun beating down on us made us appreciate the need of wind breaks for the early Hawaiian travelers.

We reached a “Kapu” sign on the King’s Trail and a path veered to the right.

 The path was well maintained and it exited to the golf cart road. 

Had we known that there was a second entrance to the King’s Trail from the golf cart road close to the petroglyphs, we would have taken that route.  

We had an easy walk back to the Kings Shops on the golf cart road. Our only hazard was dodging a half dozen speeding golf carts.  And we were mighty sore the next day from crawling over rough sections of the trail

If you are interested in an easy walk to a field of ancient Hawaiian petroglpyhs, take Pohakulana Place (off Waikoloa Beach Road) until it becomes a golf cart road.  When the golf cart road crosses the King’s Trail stay on it, go past the bathrooms, and turn left with the lake to your right.  Before reaching the maintenance building, you will see an entrance to the petroglyph reserve on the left with a sign.  The short path from the golf cart road to the King’s Trail is well marked with great views of the wind breaks, lava caves, and nearby petroglyphs.  Watch out for golf carts and golf balls.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hawaii house retrofit with paper shades

After a year living on the  Kohala coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, we are really enjoying the dry wind and clear, blue skies.   Living in the Kohala desert climate has been a very different experience than our previous years in rainy Hilo and humid Kona.  The summer sun can be ferocious in Kohala and our living room can become a solar oven from sunlight streaming through the windows during the day.  

In the book, “Your Ideal Hawaii Home: How to avoid disaster when buying or building in Hawaii”,  we mention that Hawaii style houses with long eaves that protect from the sun are the most desirable places to live.  Ironically, the place we currently live has three sets of windows on one wall of the living room that extend up two stories high.  During three months of the year, the sun is perfectly located to shine directly through the wall of windows and like a magnifying glass the contents and people in the room below are cooked.  The eaves along the top of the building are about 2 feet too short to protect the windows from the sun.    Though the lower windows have coverings, the upper windows are only tinted.  Even with the tinting treatment, we have gotten sunburned sitting on the couch.  

Our retrofit solution is to cover the upper windows and block the sunlight.  The big challenge is that the windows are 20’ high  which is too high to access with most ladders.   Our first attempt was to push cardboard into the upper window crevice with a pole, but air currents pushed the cardboard out of place no matter how we tried to secure them and they came crashing down on us at random times.  Installing any heavy window covering at that height is dangerous to anyone sitting below.

We recently found an inexpensive solution to the problem by installing temporary paper shades. We hired a local handyman to bring his extra long ladder and install them for us.  The light-weight shades  stick to the top of the window.  Since they are light, air currents only cause them flutter. They look great, far better than cardboard, and the temperature in the living room during the day has gone down by several degrees.

These paper shades are  popular in Hawaii and sold at many hardware stores.  Although, the hardware stores we checked, were sold out of the large sizes we needed, so we bought our White paper Redi-Shade through Amazon.