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Invasive fire ant outbreak at Burnaby garden centre

A garden centre in South Burnaby has been infested by invasive European fire ants – the recent in a series of outbreaks in Metro Vancouver over the past four years.

The Garden Works Mandeville location on Marine Drive has been dealing with the infestation since last August. The centre has responded by removing two greenhouses on one end of the propery where the ants were located, along with using bait to kill the insects.

“Generally speaking, I’d be comfortable getting plants from them because they are so cautious,” says Rob Higgins, an ant expert and professor at Thompson Rivers University.

“But fire ants aren’t just there, and so people do need to be careful about any movement of plants from pots to soil.”

According to the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia, the European Fire Ant will build very dense nests – up to 12 in a three metre area. Surface pesticides are ineffective and if disrupted, they will aggressively attack in swarms, delivering stings that can hurt victims for hours and itch up to a week. They thrive in climates with large amounts of rain and mild climates.

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The ants were first discovered in B.C. in 2010. Since then, biologists have found outbreaks in 24 different areas of Metro Vancouver, and Higgins says they are here to stay.

“Unless we come up with something new, we’re just not having a lot of luck,” he says.

“I’m experimenting with trapped nests, designed to lure entire colonies, that might work if we can find the right designs. But we’ve got a ways to go yet.”