B.C. to tackle fire ant invasion

A growing population of European fire ants is getting more attention from municipalities in the Metro Vancouver area.
The European fire ant has made its way from Eastern Canada to B.C. (Gary Alpert/Wikipedia)

British Columbia's growing population of European fire ants is getting more attention from municipalities in the Metro Vancouver area.

The Invasive Species Council of B.C. will meet with experts on Tuesday to develop a strategy for tackling the invasive ant species, which has been in B.C.'s southern coast for a few years.

The thin, red ants have been found around Chilliwack, North Vancouver, Victoria and Burnaby and, unlike native fire ants, can be aggressive.

Although only four millimetres long, the ants are known to swarm and sting people and pets if disturbed, causing swelling and in some cases, emergency treatment.

Abdul Majid, president of the Burnaby and Region Allotment Gardens Association, said his group's members are now fighting European fire ants in almost 200 community garden plots.

"We have started giving out traps and baits to our members," he said. 

"We can see the spread. It's quite prevalent," Majid said.

Rob Higgins, an entomologist, has been tracking the spread of the European fire ant for more than a year.

He said this invasive species is aggressive, and tends to form multiple colonies close together, which can make it hard for people to use their yards, gardens or even parks.

"They kind of move sort of a dense nest profile slowly forward on the landscape but they don't like to cross paved roads.

"So you get really intense heavy infestations on one city block, but immediately across the street the residents will be completely unaware that there is a problem," he said.

Higgins said he is concerned that the behaviour of the colonies is changing — for the worse.

"Now that these ant colonies, which were probably introduced a number of years ago, are starting to get large, they are becoming more aggressive," Higgins said.

Higgins said he is planning on touring the Lower Mainland to investigate other possible colonies.

With files from the CBC's Emily Elias