Why do we get European Fire Ants?
Previously in the Ultimate Guide to Fire Ant Control, we learned why we get fire ants in BC. Now, let's explore a particular kind of fire ant that is native to British Columbia.. the European Fire Ant. These ants are a growing menace, very aggressive and harmful.
Warning: Fire Ants can be harmful.. and are extremely difficult to control! Proper care is often needed when treating your grass or property for fire ants. Best to seek expert advice first, or call the ant control professionals to take care of them for you.
About The European Fire Ant
The European fire ant (Myrmica rubra) is a type of fire ant that is similar in color to a usual fire ant, reddish brown.. but is smaller in size. This is why they can actually be even more dangerous, as seeing one can fool you into thinking that is a normal ant. So, you need to be extra vigilant if you spot one.
The workers are about a ½ cm long and queens are a little larger. These ants are only distantly related to the “true” fire ant species (red imported fire ant) found in the Southern U.S.A. and Latin America.
- Reddish in colour, some have a slightly darker head.
- Fairly small, about 4-5mm,
- 2 waist segments (our native ant only has one)
- Samples can be sent or delivered directly to our Coquitlam office for identification
Why Should We Be Concerned With European Fire Ants?
First recorded in BC in 2010, European fire ants are now found in many communities in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.
Despite their smaller frame, the European fire ants are just as lethal. Their sting is just as painful, even deadly, if you are allergic to the sting. Little children are especially vulnerable because getting stung multiple times can result in the death of a child, even if they are not allergic to the sting. They also wreak havoc on livestock and plants.
One of the world's 100 worst invasive species—these ant are emerging in areas of BC in alarming numbers, packing a punch with its surprising swarm and sting.
A report by B.C. Ministry of Environment's Ecosystems Branch speculates that European fire ants could end up costing the province more than $100 million annually in 20 years, not including decline in property values of affected homes
They're Invasive to Other Ant Species
European Fire Ants are also extremely invasive due to their ability to displace native ants.
Biodiversity studies in BC find that where these ants are present there are fewer species of native ants; native species are almost totally displaced. Other non-ant insect species also significantly reduced where European fire ants are present.
Watch out for Fire Ants in grassy areas
If fire ants invade a recreational area—such as a park or golf course— without systematic and thorough treatment, the area may be rendered impassable, and unsuitable to the public. And the same of course applies to yards on private property. As a homeowner, you also need to be vigilant.
Fire Ant Habitat And Habits
Metro Vancouver's environment provides an ideal condition for fire ants with irrigated lawns and gardens, and moderate coastal climate.
These ants prefer sites with moisture, which may include areas such as; roots of tall grass, under wood or rocks.
Rocks and pavers act as heat sinks, keeping a nest warm overnight for quick growth of larvae. Fire Ants have a tendency to nest within root wads can result in spread via plant transplants.
Reports of more than one garden centre several years ago unknowingly spreading Fire Ants in contaminated garden soil. This is likely how they came to be in several lower mainland locations almost simultaneously.
Fire Ants are also sugar lovers and will cluster around discarded apple cores. These insects are intelligent - “farm” aphids for honeydew. Beware of common advice of borax-sugar solutions, as these can put the colony on alert mode and exacerbate the issue
Fire Ant Colonies
Colonies of the European fire ant typically have more than one queen, an average of 15 per colony, a trait which is common in many ant species in different environments. New virgin queens (winged or non-winged) and males (winged) are produced in the nest in late June.
As colony numbers grow, queens walk away from the colony with a group of workers and establish new nests in the vicinity of the original nest. They do not seem to travel far, creating high densities of nests (up to 4 per sq. metre). In this manner the colony expands and monopolizes the resources of the local area, excluding competing species of ants.
Colonies are generally slow expand, but this method outcompetes other ant species in the area
Unlike the larger fire ants, the European variety has mounds that are much smaller and not easily visible. This is why soil that has a mound may remain undetected while the colony secretly grows in numbers.
European Fire Ant reproductives emerge in late June. Unlike pavement ants and carpenter ants, reproductive ants in the fire ant colonies are not always winged. Swarms are therefore harder to detect. Wingless limits how quickly they can spread.
Most ants reproduce via nuptial flights but this appears to be rare for this species in North America. This is very fortunate in that this limits their ability to quickly spread widely. Rather, mating occurs likely in or close to the nest and the fertlized queens, which quickly lose their wings, are adopted by their home or nearby colony. As one of the more resilient of the ant species, the Queens can live up to 15 years!
New queens may return to their original nest or be adopted by a nearby one. Queens may also branch out, walking away from colony with a group of workers to establish a new colony nearby.
Distribution of European Fire Ants in BC
The European fire ant is currently known from several municipalities in southern British Columbia. These include Burnaby, Chilliwack, Richmond, Vancouver, North Vancouver and Victoria. It is likely that most of not all of the surrounding municipalities are also hosting this ant. While its distribution is broad, it: a) is often constrained to a single city block or small area where it has established, and: b) is currently occupying a small fraction of its potential habitat.
Thanks to professor Higgins for sharing this distribution map
There is a concern for the large amounts of potential habitat in BC, which could stretch across most of Coastal BC, Vancouver Island & the Gulf Islands, Southern BC to Hope, possibly Nelson, and in the north could spread from Prince Rupert to Terrace
Potential habitat in BC may be expanded due to climate change as northern regions see warmer temperatures. We should be addressing this issue with a sense of urgency.
The reason is simple; the environment is friendly enough to foster their colonies. European Fire ants require humid conditions that are available from spring and all throughout summer. They can spread by transfer of infested soil, for instance, during gardening.
Best course of action if you discover European fire ants
Discovering European fire ants in your garden or at a park can be quite alarming, and for good reasons. No one wants a swarm of insects who carry a deadly sting, destroy vegetation, and could harm animals. Needless to say, extreme caution is advised.
European fire ants are best prevented by using vigilance when landscaping and gardening, by turning over rocks and stones frequently. Although, these ants are nearly impossible to prevent as their colonies spread quickly from one property to the next.
European Fire Ants are starting to become a major issue for Metro Vancouver homeowners. Removal of soil from the property is not a permitted or effective means of eradication. In most cases a residential property will contain 20-30 nests with multiple queens and also likely that the fire ants are invading neighbouring properties as well. Communication with neighbours is paramount to increase the chances of successful eradication.
–> Next up, learn how to identify fire ants mounds and nests
Westside Pest Control is the no1. Ant Control company in the lower mainland. In addition to fire ants, we also treat for Carpenter Ants and Pavement Ants. If there is a need for professional help contact one of the team today on 604-559-9060. After a few simple questions, free estimates can be given over the phone for fire ant removal.