Appropriately named for its ‘fire’ like sting, the European fire ant (Myrmica rubra) will attack aggressively if disrupted. When this ant attacks, it pinches down with its mandible then swings around and stings multiple times. In a few cases it has produced severe allergic reactions including anaphylactic shock.
The European fire ant is a small red to brownish red ant that can be identified by its two waist segments, our native ant only has one, and the two backward pointing spines and stinger (visible with a magnifying glass).
This invasive insect was introduced from its native Eurasia to eastern North America. It was first sighted along the eastern seaboard of the United States in the early 1900s and has since spread across several Canadian provinces including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and into British Columbia.
European fire ant nests can be difficult to spot as they do not build obvious mounded nests, but prefer humid environments including in the soil and along roots of trees or shrubs, under rocks, logs, and in decaying wood or other rotting debris.
The nests will spread when established colonies move to adjacent areas. This “budding” occurs when one or more queens and a group of workers, frequently with brood, move from an existing colony to a new nest site to form a satellite colony. Other means of spread is through human-aided dispersal such as dumping or transporting infested debris, plants or soil. Fire ant colonies are very dense and abundant, and may include up to 10–12 nests in a 3 m2 area.
To avoid attracting European fire ants to your home and yard, properly store and dispose of any food or waste. Make sure any rotting debris or yard waste is not left sitting in moist areas and make sure that any soil, plants or debris being moved or disposed of is free of ants prior to shipping to another location.
When buying plants, avoid any where ants are visible on the plant. With potted plants, bang them gently on a hard surface at the store and look for any activity from the soil. When buying bagged potting soil, ask if the store bags the soil from compost on their premises, as this could lead to the transportation of unknown invasive species.
For more information on invasive plants (or species) in your area contact your regional committee or the Invasive Species Council of BC at 1-888-933-3722.