European Fire Ants
The European fire ant, Myrmica rubra, was first recorded in BC in 2010 and has since been confirmed in several isolated locations in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Chilliwack, and Victoria. The species is native to Europe and Asia and was first introduced to eastern North America in the 1900s. Over the past ten years it has become a significant pest in a number of states in the US and Canadian provinces.
European fire ants prefer moist environments, making irrigated lawns and gardens on the West Coast of BC an ideal place to become established.
If you think you have European fire ants on your property the first thing you should do is confirm their identity. Some native species of ant look similar or may behave in a similar way so it's important to confirm which species you have before attempting any control methods. Thompson Rivers University and the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture are able to provide this service free of charge, all you need to do is collect some samples and ship them to one of two locations.
Public submissions of ant samples will be useful for establishing how widespread this species is in BC and could help determine the best options for control. Your personal information as well as the exact location of any positively identified fire ant colonies will be kept confidential. However, a list of regions or municipalities where fire ants have been confirmed may be made public in order to facilitate outreach and control activities.
On June 26th, 2012 a planning session was held in Burnaby, BC for governments on the invasive European fire ant, Myrmica rubra. The planning session involved learning about the biology and distribution of M. rubra, as well as current control methods. The planning session has initiated a Joint Action Plan for communication between key stakeholders to address the growing public and biological concern towards fire ants.
Stakeholders involved in the discussion have agreed to take the lead on the issues of each objective. Together, the control of the spread of M. rubra in BC is promising. The full Fire Ant June 2012 Planning Session Report may be viewed here.
I think I have fire ants on my property, what should I do?
The only way to know with certainty that you have the European fire ant is to collect specimens and send them in for identification, as described above. This service is provided free of charge, however you will need to cover the costs of shipping your samples. Your personal information, as well as the location of any positively identified fire ant colonies, will be kept confidential.
What is the government doing about fire ants?
The provincial government is aware of European fire ant's confirmed presence in some urban yards in BC. The Inter-Ministry Invasive Species Working Group (IMISWG) is collaborating with various experts, local governments and non-government organisations. Work is currently underway to determine the extent of the invasion in BC and to determine options for control and/or preventing the spread of this species. The European fire ant is a difficult pest to manage. At this time, we can offer diagnostics and general pest management information for ants (see above). You may also want peruse the 2012 Fire Ant Planning Session section above.
Where did this ant come from?
The European fire ant is native to most of Europe and Asia. Its natural range runs west from Ireland to the border with China in the east. It is found from the Mediterranean in the south to the northern border of Scandinavia. Records from the US Department of Agriculture show that this ant has been repeatedly found in plants coming from Europe. The European fire ant has been present in parts of eastern North America for several decades and it's unclear whether the ant arrived in BC from eastern North America or Europe.
Is this ant a problem in Europe?
Not really. In its natural range it appears to be kept under control by the native ant fauna. High nest densities reported for Europe reach perhaps 1 colony per 10 square metres. In North America we see densities of up to 4 colonies in a single square metre.
Why is this ant a problem in North America but not Europe?
We can't answer this question completely but a couple of factors may be important. First, the ant exhibits different life history characteristics here compared to its native range, such as forming very high nest densities (i.e. up to 4 colonies per square metre). Second, many species of ants will behave more aggressively when they dominate a given area. Thus, while this ant is known to sting readily in Europe, it isn't as aggressive there because it never dominates an area in the way it can here.
Does this ant sting or bite?
All ants are capable of biting, although with the possible exception of our largest BC carpenter ant (native to the dry interior grasslands), none is really capable of breaking the skin. These sometimes painful "bites" are actually pinches, but removing the ant ends the experience. Some ants in BC also have a true stinger, however, they rarely sting. The European fire ant readily uses its stinger. This injects venom under the skin that first burns (30 minutes to 2 hours) then itches for a few days to a week.
The BC invasion represents the northern-most spread of this species in North America; could it spread further north and could this be related to climate change?
Populations of the European fire ant in Europe range over a large area (up to 70 degrees North). Even in its normal European range, a fire ant colony from the Mediterranean would not likely survive in Scandinavia as each population is adapted to its local environment. We do not know where the fire ants in North America originated (this is currently being investigated) so we cannot be certain of what environmental limits (such as temperature and precipitation) it could tolerate. If conditions are favourable, this ant could potentially spread up the coast as far north as Prince Rupert. In southern BC it may spread inland to Hope and possibly establish in the higher precipitation areas of the Kootenays. It will not likely establish in the dry interiors. There is no known connection between the ant and global warming at this time.
How did this ant get onto my property?
It most likely arrived either with new plants (bedding plants, trees, or contaminated soil or mulch) or has spread from adjacent properties.
What impacts can this ant have on my property, in urban areas, or in natural ecosystems?
It appears that European fire ants are limited to urban areas in coastal BC so far. Risks identified include stings to people who tread on nests, loss of use of green space, both in private backyards and public parks and grounds. Research from eastern North America, where the ant is established, show that there is localized loss of biodiversity, i.e. European fire ants displace other species of ants in some limited areas. We do not know how the ant will impact coastal BC ecosystems, but it is possible that we could see the same impact here as in eastern North America. At this point, we have no information to confirm that the ant is outside urban areas in BC.
Why should I worry about the arrival of this species in BC?
The primary risk of European fire ants is people getting stung. Therefore, it would be in the best interest of the public to become knowledgeable about the signs of presence of fire ants and what do if found. Loss of use of green space if the ant becomes widely established should also be of concern to the public.
How do I get rid of this ant?
Consider 3 approaches: