What are European Fire Ants and how to get rid of them

WATCH: Exterminator Bryan Calvert says fire ants pack a nasty bite and getting rid of them is a job for professionals

TORONTO – A family in Newmarket is dealing with an aggressive ant species – the European Fire Ant – has colonized the area behind their home.

As the name suggests, the ants aren’t native to North America and it is unclear how they made it to Canada.

Dr. Gary Umphrey, a professor at the University of Guelph, first came upon the European fire ant – or myrmica rubra – in the 1970s in Meaford.

Since then they’ve spread along the borders of Lake Ontario, including Toronto and Whitby.

“They seem to do very well in areas near water,” he said. “They develop pretty good size populations and they’re pretty aggressive ants.”

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The ants are mainly red in colour and have a slightly darker head. They live under stones and deep – about three to four feet down – in soil.

Bryan Calvert has been working as an exterminator in York for close to 30 years and says fire ants “really don’t have a particular purpose.”

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The fire ant colonies can range from single queen colonies of upwards of 150,000 ants or multi-queen colonies with close to 300,000 ants.

And they spread quickly.

“Once they have found themselves in an area, and usually they started off in a parkland, so maybe it was transplanting trees. But they’ll take over a backyard pretty quickly,” he said. “They’ll expand about, as an estimate, maybe 100 feet every year or two.”

European Fire Ants sting

European fire ants set themselves apart from other ants because of their potent sting. They aren’t the only ant in Ontario to sting, but as Umphrey points out, they are quick to use their stinger while other ants rarely use them or have a sting so weak it’s hardly felt.

The European Fire Ant will readily sting humans, livestock or pets – making them a problem in urban areas.

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The sting can leave an inflamed red area up to four inches in diameter.

“Once they are there, you don’t really want to go near them,” Calvert said.

European Fire Ants in urban areas

The town of Richmond Hill has a management plan for dealing with the ants before they become a “serious problem.”

The town’s plan suggests ants native to North America may not be able to defend their food and resources against the aggressive ant.

The city of Markham suggests keeping yards clear of waste, accumulated branches or decaying vegetation because they all give the ants a place to thrive.

How do you get rid of European Fire Ants?

Getting rid of the invasive ants isn’t easy.

“What they’re selling over the counter really won’t work,” Calvert said.

Calvert, as an exterminator, recommends calling a professional to “soak” an infested area two or three times a year with a chemical mixture.  He said his products are far stronger than anything that can be bought at a store.

“That means you have to dump five litres of a mixture in any given spot and you have to repeatedly do it so that that solution soaks down to the very bottom to get the full nest,” he said. “We do places on a yearly basis, again, two or three times a year, to knock off the populations.”

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– With files from The Canadian Press 

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