The European fire ant (Myrmica rubra) is native to Europe and Asia and was first introduced to eastern North America in the 1900s. A newer alien invader in our region, the ants were first recorded in B.C. in 2010, and have since been discovered in isolated locations throughout the Lower Mainland.
It is important to note that there are many species of ants, including red ones, which are native to our region. Please do not assume that any red ant you see is a European fire ant.
European fire ants can be very difficult to identify, even for a trained eye with a hand lens. For help identifying, please refer to a fire ant expert.
Fire ants are small in size and red in colour. Their constricted "waist" has two segments (most native species have only one), and they have two backward-point spines on the middle body section, which are visible only with a magnifying glass. Their nests are built in soil under rocks, wood or other debris (nests are not large soil mounds). Nests are usually very abundant, with 10–12 nests in a 10" by 10" area.
The fire ant is capable of inflicting a painful, burning sting. Reaction to their sting varies, though typically people experience a burning sensation and the bite area will inflame and remain sore for a few hours or days. If you experience a strong reaction, call Healthlink BC at 8-1-1 for symptom advice.
Why are fire ants a problem?
The European fire ant is an aggressive, swarming ant that can deliver a painful sting when disturbed by people, pets and wildlife that wander into their territory. If a colony moves into a park, they may impact the recreational use of the park, and may also threaten native ants in the area.
What can residents do to reduce the spread of fire ants?
The following are steps you can take to help ensure that fire ants do not spread throughout Delta:
- Inspect all your purchased plants, soil and wood materials for ants or other insects. Shake out planters or agitate the soil to see if ants are present.
- Do not purchase anything that carries insects, weeds or other foreign material that you are not familiar with or feel does not belong on the product you are purchasing.
- Report any findings directly to the retail manager to help them investigate their inventory.
- Do not share plants or garden materials, including compost, that carry ants, insects or weeds with them.
- Learn about the European fire ant and how to properly control the species. Improper control techniques will cause a fire ant infestation to spread and worsen.
How can we get rid of the fire ants?
Once established, European fire ants can be a very difficult pest to manage. If you suspect that you have an infestation of fire ants on your property, the first thing you should do is confirm their identity. Learn more information on how to collect and send samples. Native ants are beneficial to our local ecosystem and should not be killed unless they are causing structural damage.
There is ongoing research on the effectiveness of insecticides to control European fire ants. One form of treatment that has shown some success in Vancouver is to apply an insecticide with an active ingredient concentration of at least 0.25% permethrin to the ants and their nest. Nests can be found by raking the soil and observing from where the ants are emerging. Thoroughly mix the insecticide into the next, digging to a depth of approximately 30cm; it is recommended that at least 500ml of insecticide be used for each nest. Check the applied area periodically for any remaining ant activity in case some queens manage to escape. Also check other parts of your property for additional nests, as wandering queen ants from untreated nests can re-invade a treated area once the insecticide wears off. Insecticide treatment should occur in early spring, when the ants are most active. Using insecticide to control a European fire ant infestation is permitted under Delta's Pesticide Use Control Bylaw No. 6799, 2009. Learn more about Controlling European Fire Ants on Residential Properties.
Be careful if you do disturb European fire ant nests: wear protective gear such as heavy shoes, gloves, long sleeved shirts and pants in order to protect yourself from being stung. You may want to apply insecticide to your shoes when attempting to exterminate ant nests.
Other purported control methods, such as using a blowtorch to flame a nest of pouring boiling water into a nest, are dangerous and have not been found to be effective.
While there is no certain way to eradicate this ant, baits appear to offer some limited results. Learn more information on homemade bait and containers.
This ant loves moisture. It likes tall grass, well irrigated lawns, raised garden beds, and the ground under lawn clutter (children's play structures, stored BBQ tanks, etc.). Minimizing watering and keeping your property clutter-free may help prevent the spread of the ant.
It also likes heat, which can come from paving stones, ornamental stones and landscaping wood. These items warm during the day and hold that heat overnight, making them a better nesting site than open areas. Consider placing gravel immediately behind landscaping ties for the same purpose.
If you have a confirmed European fire ant infestation on your property, coordinate a response with your neighbours. One homeowner working alone is unlikely to see results as new ant colonies will invade from adjacent properties. Talk to your neighbours about the coordinated use of insecticide or baits. Remember, native ant species which are not causing structural or health hazards should not be exterminated.
Learn more about European Fire Ants:
Province of BC Inter-Ministry Invasive Species Working Group
Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver
Dr. Robert Higgins, Thompson Rivers University Research