Aggressive type of fire ants have arrived in Chilliwack

The expert would not disclose any of the specific locations that he is aware of in Chilliwack with fire ants due to privacy concerns

A B.C. biologist who specializes in ants says Chilliwack is one of several Lower Mainland locations where European fire ants have been confirmed.

Robert Higgins, an entomologist from Thompson Rivers University, says he can pinpoint their arrival in B.C. to about four years ago after he examined a specimen he’d been sent by Agriculture Canada.

“I had been suspecting this ant would show up,” Higgins said.

Anecdotal reports on social media of fire ants, which have not been confirmed by Higgins, cite Chilliwack streets such as Maple, Hazel, Brooks, Kent, Princess and Charles.

But City of Chilliwack reps say they have had no official reports from citizens about the presence of European fire ants in Chilliwack.

Higgins would not disclose or confirm any of the specific locations that he is aware of in Chilliwack due to privacy issues, but is still willing to help owners who think they have fire ants.

The defining characteristic of the European fire ant is that when their nests are disturbed, they will swarm, sometimes in the thousands.

They actually weren’t known to cause any trouble for humans until about a decade ago.

“This seems to be a more aggressive and invasive variety of fire ants than we had seen previously,” Higgins said.

The are known to invade the landscape and colonize it with highly dense nests in people’s gardens and lawns.

“When they were first reported in the (scientific) literature 40 or even 100 years ago, it was ‘hey this ant is here,’ but it wasn’t having a big impact yet on other insects.

“Whatever is happening now, it is pushing out other insects. It’s actually displacing native ants.”

Specimens from Chilliwack homeowners were sent to the researcher in recent years to help identify and confirm this ant species was really here.

So what is the very best way to permanently remove European fire ants?

“Right now we don’t have a best way,” Higgins replied. “It’s all about preventing the spread.”

There’s some tests underway to remove entire colonies of fire ants by coaxing them into containers.

But traditional pest control methods, like the standard use of pesticides, may not work at all.

“Research in Maine showed that pesticide was not effective,” he said.

What about boric acid?

“It’s not as promising as I thought, but we may want to refine how it is done.”

One of two confirmed Chilliwack locations for European fire ants covers a five-block radius. Higgins said the last time he was in Chilliwack with other researchers, they mapped out the distribution of fire ant nests in that one area.

The thing is these are not your typical backyard ants. Their colonies can have up to 1000 workers and 20 queens.

“I have seen up to four colonies in one square metre.”

They swarm in huge numbers, and pack quite a sting.

Although the sting is not quite as painful as a wasp bite, people can be stung simultaneously by several ants at once, and some will suffer from painful swelling. It’s been likened the painful sensation of stinging nettle.

These fire ants are also different from the Southern variety that plagues the southeastern United States, such as New Orleans, and have been established in North America for more than 100 years.

Some of Higgins’ research involves trying to find an effective way to remove the European fire ants, as well as mapping out their complex nests.

Higgins has a bit of advice for concerned residents.

One, when they bring any kind of soil onto their properties, it should be thoroughly checked for the presence of ants. Soil movement is the main way they are spread around.

Two, if they already have the ants, it’s important to stop the spread into the wider neighbourhood.

“We’re looking at how to take advantage of any natural barriers to their  movement, like a retaining wall, or someone’s lawn that is never watered.”

The third priority is finding ways to get rid of them, or at least “knock them back,” he said.

“I do want to encourage people to contact me if they think they have European fire ants on their properties,” he said. “We’ll let them know if they do or don’t. If they don’t, it’s a huge relief.

“If it turns out they do have them, we’ll provide information to let them know what they are up against, and some ideas to help them reduce the numbers.”

Email him for information at rhiggins@tru.ca or go to his web page which can help homeowners with the ID. He’s awaiting news on research funding this month to see if he’ll be returning to Chilliwack this summer for more study and mapping.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

Just Posted

Body found believed to be missing Chilliwack senior with dementia

Police says case is now in the hands of the coroner

Mammoth sturgeon catch was ‘a fish of a lifetime’ for Chilliwack guide

Sturgeon was so enormous it tied for largest specimen every tagged and released in the Fraser

Chilliwack’s Riley Ashley unstoppable as Team BC wins baseball gold

Ashley clubbed six homeruns at the U-13 National Western Championships in Cloverdale.

Chilliwack’s Jude Hall selected for T12 baseball tournament

The Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Academy hosts the annual showcase event at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Motorists urged to use caution as Ride to Conquer Cancer rolls through Chilliwack

Thousands of cyclists will be heading through Chilliwack this weekend as part of cancer fundraiser

Pickle me this: All the outrageous foods at this year’s PNE

Pickled cotton candy, deep-fried chicken skins, and ramen corndogs are just a start

New study suggests autism overdiagnosed: Canadian expert

Laurent Mottron: ‘Autistic people we test now are less and less different than typical people’

B.C. father tells judge he did not kill his young daughters

Andrew Berry pleaded not guilty to the December 2017 deaths

Trans Mountain gives contractors 30 days to get workers, supplies ready for pipeline

Crown corporation believes the expansion project could be in service by mid-2022

Fraser River sea bus proposed to hook into TransLink system

Maple Ridge councillor just wants to start discussion

Rosemount cooked diced chicken linked to listeria case in B.C.

The symptoms of listeria include vomiting, nausea, fever, muscle aches

B.C. seniors allowed more choice to stay in assisted living

Province doesn’t need to wait for a complaint to investigate care, Adrian Dix says

Retired B.C. fisherman wins record $60M Lotto Max jackpot

Joseph Katalinic won the biggest Lotto Max prize ever awarded

Most Read