British Columbia·Photos

Ants, other insects emerging in large numbers this year

A mild winter and sudden burst of early warm weather has insect colonies starting the season quite healthy.

Pest control technicians are getting more calls than usual for ant infestations in Metro Vancouver

A bone dry spring has been a boon for Edmonton's ant population. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It's not something you want to hear inside your walls on a quiet night: a slight crackle, almost like milk being poured over a bowl of Rice Krispies.

That's the sound an infestation of carpenter ants will make.

"I think there's definitely an 'ick' factor, especially for a lot of people," said Bill Green, Vancouver branch manager for Orkin Canada pest control. "They're not used to dealing with insects and pests inside their home, so it definitely grosses them out."

A mild winter coupled with a sudden burst of warm weather has many insects — including carpenter ants — coming out a bit early this year in the Vancouver area, and the colonies will be healthier than other years.

"A warm year, nice temperatures, a decent amount of moisture — that's a happy time for insects," said Ken Naumann, who teaches biology at Langara College and researches social insects like ants and bees.

But Green says although the pest control business does get busier at this time of year, it's not usually this busy.

"We are averaging about 40 calls a day for our ant season — in particular carpenter ants. So it's getting busy for us, for sure," he said.

Bill Green with Orkin Canada pest control says they're getting 40 calls a day about carpenter ant infestations, which is more than usual, even for the busy time of year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The carpenter ants get more attention than many other ants because they're much bigger, sometimes reaching an inch in length, according to Naumann. And then, of course, there's the fact they start chewing the wood that houses are built out of.

"Although the group are called carpenter ants, they're not eating the wood. They're simply using the wood as a place to build their nest," said Naumann.

"Before there were houses around they would have been using recently fallen trees or stumps and used that as a nest site, but now we have these great piles of dead wood we call houses and sheds."

Ken Naumann, who teaches biology at Langara College and researches social insects, says a mild winter and sudden warm spring will bring out the insects like ants this year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Green says the deterioration caused by carpenter ants shouldn't be ignored.

"They are creating a lot of damage, so they are excavating that wood, meaning they're chewing it up and spitting it out," said Green. "It can become unsafe if it's left unattended."

Pest control technician Rob Hache sprays a carpenter ant colony that has moved into a Surrey home. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Naumann suggests listening closely to the walls if you suspect a carpenter ant infestation in your home. He said a stethoscope helps, but a serious infestation can be heard without one. 

"They're not going to eat your whole house," he said, noting that in some cases, the ants can certainly cause structural damage. "See if it's a place that matters."