Name: Fire Ant
Latin Name: Myrmica rubra
Nicknames/common names: aka the European Fire Ant, common red ant
Fire ants in Southern Ontario are an invasive species, and their numbers are on the rise across the GTA as they spread along the borders of Lake Ontario. First documented in Ontario in 1970, after their North American-Massachusetts debut in 1908, fire ants are native to Europe and Central Asia and were likely introduced to the continent in imported soil. It goes without saying that these ants are aggressors and that they can deliver a painful sting to humans, pets and livestock that can hurt for hours. Serious infestations make outdoor properties virtually unusable for human activity. Ecologically damaging and having no natural predators, common red ants in Canada spread through human dispersal and satellite colony forming, and are hypothesized to be able to live in climates as far north as Hudson Bay. Resultantly, if Fire ants are present on your property, it is important not to move infested plant material to uninfested areas, but instead, contact your local Pest Control company for an inspection by a licensed technician who will tailor an integrated pest management plan for your property and specific fire ant population.
Fire ants are most active during the day and the heat of Southern Ontario’s late spring, summer and early fall. Their peak activity time has a causal relationship to decreased enjoyment of invaded areas for property owners, and even has negative economic implications for businesses.
How to identify Fire ants
Fire ants in North America are mainly red to red-brown in colour, with a slightly darker pigmentation of the head. Adults range from 2-6 mm in length; the queens measure closer to 6 mm, and workers between 4 and 5 mm. Unlike most native ant species that only one waist segment, common red ants have two. Fire ants have 12-segmented antennae.
Life stages & anatomy
The life cycle is usually completed within 30 days; workers live for about 180 days, queens can live anywhere from 2-6 years. There are single, and multi-queen colonies, the largest (discovered in England) had close to 700 queens and hundreds of thousands of workers across several satellite colonies. Colonies in invasion areas tend to support larger populations of fire ants due to a lack of natural predators and competitors.
Myrmica rubra, the common red ant that is invading Canada, is often confused with the more aggressive imported red ant (Solenopsis invicta) currently invading the Southern United States and other sub-tropical and tropical regions across the globe.
If you are unsure if the invading ant species is, in fact, Myrmica rubra, you can send a specimen in for testing and identification using the information here.
Signs of a Fire Ant Infestation
Like many species found in Southern Ontario, red ants depend on high humidity conditions for optimal egg incubation, preferring warm and moist outdoor conditions. Rapid nest evacuation, relocation and recolonization are standard practice with fire ants either in response to shifting incubation conditions or as an indicator of a built-in nomadism, often making harbourages difficult to locate. Fire ants are polydomous, and thriving populations average about one satellite colony per square meter.
European Fire Ants rarely occur in dense forests and are instead mostly encountered in urban areas. Now common in gardens, the soil under rocks, tree roots, logs or other human or natural debris, and in decaying logs, common red ants do not build mound colonies like most native ants but will establish nests in the root zone of vegetation. They are aggressive ants, often opting for fight instead of flight, and will eliminate native insects in invasion areas, expanding about 100 ft every year or two when left unchecked. Although most ants in urban environments are viewed as nuisance pests when they get into our homes, native ant species play a significant role in seed propagation and act as both predators and prey for other species in our ecosystem, and so their eradication from native areas by fire ants causes ecological harm.
Where did they come from / how did I get them?
Still being studied, in North America these omnivorous scavenger-predators are spread through the purchase and movement of infested plants to uninfested gardens and neighbourhoods. In all likelihood, a supercolony already exists in your community and is expanding its territory into your garden or backyard. Alternatively, you may have purchased contaminated soil or plants. If you have purchased infested material, report it to the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
What do Fire ants eat?
Fire ants, like many ants species, have a symbiotic relationship with aphids. They protect them from predators in exchange for being able to farm them for honeydew. The mutualism of this relationship leads to higher numbers of aphids in fire ant invaded areas causing damage to plant populations in your backyard.
Fire Ant Stings:
Fire ant stings feel like tearing muscle pain that comes in waves that can last for upwards of 24 hours. Red ant stings are comparable to wasps stings, the site will swell, itch, and their venom may even catalyze anaphylactic shock. In cases of a particularly serious reaction, seek medical attention immediately.
How Addison can help Prevent Fire Ant Infestations in the Future:
Inspect all incoming plant and organic matter before establishing it on your property or bringing it into your home. Even if the origin of an infestation is rooted out, it is important to be stringent in your implementation of physical controls; fill cracks in building facades, and seal window frames (refit if necessary). Keep outdoor spaces dry and open to sunlight, clear debris that creates humid and moist conditions for ant colony-building, and lift firewood off the ground. Establish a perimeter clear of organic matter of at least 1ft around the structure. Shrubs and tree branches should be cut back from your home to limit access points to the structure. Inside, kitchens should be kept clear of spills and crumbs; food should be kept tightly sealed, keep organic waste in the freezer, seal moisture drips and leaks from drains and plumbing, repair cracks and fissures in floors and walls. Most ants who invade homes tend to be ‘budding’ members of larger colonies that are working to establish smaller satellite nests. It is important to inspect moist and decaying wood and wood structures like decks, porches, sheds, playsets on your property and to remove any dilapidated structures or potential harbourages.
Note: do not re-locate any infested materials to uninfested sites. The proper disposal of these materials is required. The dumping of soil into ravines, parks and onto other City of Toronto property is not permitted. If European Red Ants on your property become a concern, you can submit a request for an investigation by visiting
http://www.toronto.ca/311, or by calling 311.
Nuptial flights have not been witnessed from the species of fire ant that is invading Canada.