Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Local News

Empire of the Ants

Invasive stinging insects quietly move into Chilliwack

Staff/Handout photo


t's been said that ants can bring down elephants.


Recent reports indicate that several areas in BC have become home to European fire ants, including two locations in Chilliwack.


These aren't the pesky little picnic ants that you casually flick off. Fire ants swarm and sting by the hundreds when their nests are disturbed. Plus, their venom packs a wallop that can leave you in pain for up to two hours and itching for a week.

In 2010-11, Agriculture Canada sent ant samples that were found in the Lower Mainland to Dr. Robert J. Higgins, Biological Sciences at Thompson Rivers University for identification. He later found them to be European fire ants (Myrmica rubra).

According to a historical overview on Higgins' web site, the insects were first seen in 1909 in Boston, Massachusetts.

After gaining a foothold in the US, they began to infest areas north of the 49th parallel, and were eventually seen in the Quebec and Ontario regions.

Now, the rust-coloured insects, which measure about one-sixth of an inch long, have successfully migrated across the country to BC, where they've built colonies in the nicely manicured lawns and gardens of Burnaby and Richmond.

In an e-mail to the Voice on Monday, Higgins said he would not give the exact locations of the Chilliwack colonies, citing privacy concerns from residents, but did say the City of Chilliwack was notified.

"I tell homeowners and businesses that I will keep sites confidential unless told otherwise, but we have been given permission to share information with the City so that they know what is going on," he said.

"That enables us to do a basic assessment and pass along some information about the fire ant so that they have an understanding of what they are up against," explains Higgins. "Even when we can't do much with control, knowing the enemy helps a bit."

Available literature indicates fire ants tend to be very territorial and aggressive, especially in the summertime.


According to a report last week in the Province paper, the problem has become so bad in at least one Lower Mainland park, that signage is posted warning people to keep moving or risk being swarmed.

The outlook on getting rid of the ants once you have them is dire. Higgins says that unless a method of control is found, it's likely infestations will continue to spread.

When asked about the ants over-wintering on the West Coast, he says that they handle the milder BC winters with ease.

The community's first line of defense is vigilance and Higgins advises Chilliwack residents to check all plants and soil very closely when bringing it onto their property.

"It is easier than getting them out once they are established," he says.


"The basic message is that there should be no ants associated with plants or soil what-so-ever. If there are, it should be returned to source."

If residents think they may have an infestation on their property, but are unsure, they can send in a sample that Higgins will check.

To learn more, visit Higgins' website here and get specimen mailing directions here.

Related Link
BC Ants on Antweb www.antweb.org/britishcolumbia.jsp



Copyright (c) 2009-2014 The Valley Voice