Ant uprising: industrious insects invade Edmonton

With tiny ramparts made of sand, they’ve breached backyards and marched their way into kitchen windows across the the city.

'We had that hot, dry spring ... and they just blew up'

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

With tiny ramparts made of sand, they've breached backyards and marched their way into kitchen windows across the the city.

Edmonton is under an invasion by a sprawling army of ants. The city is literally crawling with them, says Edmonton-based entomologist Mike Dolinski.

"We had that hot, dry spring and it got the ants off and running pretty early in the summer and they just blew up," Dolinski said during a Monday morning interview on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"Just like the fire and locusts, it was hot and dry so the ants came out of winter fairly well, and my guess is that they got a really good start because it was bone dry and warm."

A recent deluge of rain may be the population boom's only antidote.

"They like it dry, and usually they do better when it's hot," said Dolinski. "Ants don't swim very well." 

And good luck getting rid of them; the critters don't yield to extermination easily. Pesticides may be the only permanent way to rid your property of ants, but Dolinski says these products can be highly toxic, especially to pets and young children.

Get your hands dirty

If your backyard has become a battleground for the ant invasion, he suggests you get your hands dirty instead.

"In most cases it's going to be very very difficult to control that. Take the rake to them, and water the dickens out of your lawn."

"And keep your lawn long, the ants have trouble crawling around in there."

That said, ant populations in the prairies remain mysterious and Dolinski says its hard to pinpoint how the population boom will play out this season.

"We really don't know much about ants to tell you the honest truth, there's not anyone working on ants from the entomology point of view that I know of in Alberta, and I've been around for quite a long time."

And although some picnics will certainly suffer amid the ant invasion, Dolinski is keen to remind the populace that the pesky creatures can be an ally. 

"I'm not anti-ant," Dolinski said with a chuckle. 

"They feed on dead mice, birds and all kinds of other insects. If we didn't have ants around we have all these dead carcasses and organic matter sitting around doing nothing.

"Ants have a pretty beneficial purpose of life, so it's a matter of making it through to winter, and then they'll disappear."