European Fire Ant – Invasive Species Centre (2022)

European Fire Ant (Myrmica rubra)

French common name: fourmi rouge

European Fire Ant – Invasive Species Centre (1)

Photo: E. Groden, Univeristy of Maine

European Fire Ant – Invasive Species Centre (2)

Photo: Gary Alpert, Bugwood.org

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Order:Hymenoptera
Family:Formicidae
Genus:Myrmica
Species:Rubra
Did you know? European fire antqueens can live up to 7 years. A queen might leave her colony to start a new one nearby,in a process known as “budding”. This aspectof the European fire ant’s ecologymight enable its spread in North America.

The European fire ant is an invasivepest in North America whose native range is in Europe and northern Asia. It is named after the burning, itching sensation that its sting produces. Although the European fire ant has been present in North America for over one hundred years, ithaspestiferoushere in the last three decades(Groden et al., 2005, and Wetterer and Radchenko, 2011, as cited in Dunphy, 2016).

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General Information

The Europeanfireantcan appearred or light brown and is 4-5millimetersin length(Okanagan Invasive Species Online).They usually attack in swarms,and willsting after their nestsget disturbed.European fire ants can sting multiple times;this causesa burning, itching sensation, pustules, and in extremely rare (>1%) cases, anaphylaxis(Orkin Canada, 2018).

This ant species nests undergroundinlightly shaded areas withhumid soil(Arevalo and Groden, 2007). Their nest mounds are not obvious, making them easy to step on and disturb.Nest densities are much higher in their established ranges in the U.S.than in their nativerange –up to 1.5 nests per square meter, compared with up to 0.3 nests per square meter in England (Groden et al.,2005).

Their high population and nest densities are facilitated by having multiple queens(polygyny)and multiple nests(polydomy)for each individual colony. In the European fire ant’s native range, colonies are highly mobile and may move throughout the summer.

Newinvasiveinfestations,however, seem to be caused byunintentional dispersal of infested soilsby humans(Arevalo and Groden, 2007).

European fire ants formsupercolonies(multiple nests and multiple queens in an area) in their native and introduced ranges, but we don’t know how they reproduce and spread in their introduced range (Dunphy, 2016).

Intheirnative range,theylikely spread by “budding”. This iswherea mated queen andagroup of worker ants split off from a colony andform a new one. They can also spreadbysexualnuptial flights, wherewinged male ants fly off to mate with virgin queens from other colonies(Dunphy, 2016).

Theformation ofsupercolonies, high nest density, and buddingare all traitsgenerallyassociated with invasive ant species(Dunphy, 2016).

Moistsoiland wetlandsare consideredfavourablehabitatfor European fire ants.A study sampling the ants in wetlands in the Credit River watershed in Ontario,examined the relationship between incidence and abundance of European fire ants and environmental factors, namely wetness, disturbance, and surrounding urban cover.

Ant incidence and ant abundance increased with surrounding human disturbance and amount of urban cover.The positive relationship between ant incidence and abundance,and higher urbancover allowsfor the hypothesis of the ants spreadingthrough human transferring of infested plants, soils, and other biotic materials.The likelihood of this is higherin urban environments(Duthie et al., 2021).

The European fire ant’s presence in North America was first detected in the early 1900s inMassachusetts(Groden et al.,2005; Wetterer and Radchenko,2011; Naumann and Higgins,2015;andChen and Adams,2018,as cited in Duthie et al. 2021).It has now spread through the northeastern U.S.and Washington state,and southeastern Canadaand British Columbia(Groden et al., 2005; Wetterer and Radchenko, 2011; Hicks, 2012; and Naumann and Higgins, 2015, as cited in Meadleyet al., 2016).

The range of this ant species in North America appears to have expanded slowly. Many range extensions were only documented in an official capacity in the last 15 years.According to anecdotal evidence,it has been in Newfoundland for at least 45 years, but not collected untilthe year2000. It was officially recognizedinthe provincein 2010 (Hicks,2012, as cited in Hicks et al., 2014).

It is possible for the European fireantto have been introduced decades ago, with its population expanding only recently.It is not fully understood what barriers to population increase and spread may havelessened or been overcome,after decades of the European fire ant’s presence in North America(Hicks et al., 2014).

Based on mitochondrial DNA sequences from European fire ants collected in eastern Canada, the U.S., and Europe, Hicks et al. (2014) were able toidentifypossible sourcesfrom which the ant was introduced toNewfoundland. An origin point of Dorset County (in the southwest United Kingdom),issupported by historical records of commercial fishing traffic; the antlikelyhadbeen transferredthroughsoilballastthat was unloaded in Newfoundland ports. Theharboursof St.John’s and Carbonear/Harbour Grace have the highest abundance of introduced weed species from the United Kingdom (Cooper, 1981), and the European fire ant is found at these ports, as well as some of the oldest ports in Newfoundland.

One ant in Newfoundland was found to have the same haplotype asindividualsfoundin Maine, U.S.The location in which this ant was found is directly adjacent to FortPepperall, a formerAmericanair force base that would have imported materials from the U.S.during the period it was active (1941-1960)(Hicks et al., 2014).

With their tendency to formsupercolonies, European fire ants can take over habitats, negatively affecting native ant species and even altering native plant communities.

Naumann and Higgins (2015) conducted a studyat four locations near the mouth of the Fraser River in southwestern British Columbia, comparingthe presence and abundance of native ant species.At sites where the invasive ant wasestablished, other native ant species werealmost completelyabsent.The diversity of other ground-dwelling arthropod species was also consistently lower at sites with Europeanfireants.

Because many plants rely on seeddispersalby ants (which the ants rely on for food in a mutualist relationship), ants play a role in shaping plant community structure – ant species will differ in how far and in what environment they secondarily displace the seeds after initially bringing them to their nests (Dunphy, 2016).

In an outdoor experimental system mimicking the natural environment,Dunphy (2016)noticed thatEuropeanfire antsbetter promoted the spreadof invasiveplant species, compared to native ant species, whichwere better at dispersingnativeplants.

European Fire Ant – Invasive Species Centre (3)High densities of European fire ant nests can render a small area (like a park, garden, yard, or even golf course) unusable due to the risk of stepping on an ant nest and being swarmed. Pets and humans alike can get stung.

A report prepared by Robinson et al. (2013) estimated that the maximum cost that could be incurred from European fire ant damages at over $1 million if they were to occupy their full potential range in British Columbia.Treatment costs for household lawns and gardens would account for most of the damage, followed by the same for golf courses.

Signs of Infestation

Nests don’t usually form an obvious mound, and can be located under objects like wood piles, stones, and lawn ornaments (Okanagan Invasive Species Online).You may have European fire antsin your yard or garden if:

1) Your yard/garden hasfavourablehabitat conditions,i.e.,objects or piles on the ground that trap heat and moisture.

European Fire Ant – Invasive Species Centre (4)

Image: modernpest.com

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2)You live in a high-risk area.

3)Yourneighbourshave confirmed infestations.

4)You were stung by a swarm of red ants and experienced a burning, itching sensation.

European fire ants can be confused with other ant species, includingones that swarm and sting. You should always confirm an identification before seeking treatment.

Confirm the identification of European fire ants by safely collecting a sample and mailing it to a laboratory. Ants are less likely to sting on a cool morning. Wear personal protective clothing and set out apple slices to bait the ants. In an hour, check the apple slices for infestation. Pick up a slicewithants,place it into a container,and freeze overnight (Metro Vancouver and the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver, 2019).

Management

European fire ants can be prevented from establishing and spreading in your yard or garden by minimizing watering and removing objects or piles from the ground that can trap heat and moisture. If you haveanantinfestation, avoid moving soil or mulch from infested areas(Okanagan Invasive Species Online).Confirm the identification of European fire ants (refer to above) and report a known infestation by emailinginfo@invasivespeciescentre.ca.

It is recommended when working to control a suspected European fire ant infestation,to protect your skin by wearing gloves and closed-toed shoes or rainboots with pants tucked into socks.Usinganinsecticideisthebest method of controlor eradication ifthetotal infested area is small enough and all nests are targeted(Metro Vancouver and the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver, 2019). Check your localinsecticidebylaws beforeproceeding– you willlikely needa licensed professional to applyinsecticide.

Baiting using 2% boric acid in a sugar solution,or altering the infested landscape (by removing rocks, logs, debris piles, etc.),can helpcontainan infestation and reduce populationdensity, butwill never eradicate the ants(Metro Vancouver and the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver, 2019).Digging and torching infested soil is not recommended(Metro Vancouver and the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver, 2019).

In non-residential spaces, it has been suggested thatdouble-crested cormorants may have a negative impact on European fire ant presence.Whencormorantsnest in trees, their defecation alters soil chemistry, killing the trees.Gupta et al. (2018) found thatEuropean fire ant abundance was higher in healthy forests, and ant nest density didnot change in healthy forests between study years.However,therewere noant nests in fields or dying forests, and in one locationthat changed over the course of the study period to a dying forest, ant abundance and nest density decreased.

This suggests that nestingdouble-crestedcormorants have a negative impact onEuropeanfire ant presence.Reducing oreliminatingEuropeanfire ants in these areas couldbenefitother ground-nesting birds that use deforested habitats.

References

Arevalo, H.A., and Groden, E.(2019).European fire ant –Myrmicarubra (Linnaeus).Ufl.edu.

Gupta, A.,Rudmik, K., & Fraser, G. S. (2017). Evidence for a Negative Effect of Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocoraxauritus) on Invasive European Fire Ants (Myrmicarubra).The Canadian Field-Naturalist, 131(4), 347–349.

Hicks, B., Pilgrim, B., & Marshall, H. (2014). Origins and genetic composition of the European fire ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Newfoundland, Canada.The Canadian Entomologist, 146(4), 457-464. doi:10.4039/tce.2013.81

Meadley Dunphy, S. (2016, November 1).The Ecological and Population Genetic Consequences of Invasion by the European Fire Ant,Myrmicarubra, in Ontario. Tspace.library.utoronto.ca.

Metro Vancouver and the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver.Best Management Practices forEuropean Fire Ants in the Metro Vancouver Region. (2019).

Naumann, K., & Higgins, R. (2015). The European fire ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) as an invasive species: Impact on local ant species and otherepigaeicarthropods.The Canadian Entomologist, 147(5), 592-601. doi:10.4039/tce.2014.69

Okanagan Invasive Species Online. European Fire Ant. (2021). OISO. Retrieved September 24, 2021.

Orkin Canada. What To Do When Bitten By A Fire Ant. (2018, October 15). Orkin.

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‌Robinson, D.C.E., Knowler, D.,Kyobe, D., and de la Cueva Bueno, P.(2013).Preliminary Damage Estimates for Selected Invasive Fauna in B.C. Retrieved September 24, 2021.

Timms, L., Duthie, C., & Fraser, G. (2021). The European fire ant,Myrmicarubra(Linnaeus) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), in the Credit River watershed.The Journal of theEntomological Society of Ontario, 152, 15–28.

FAQs

Where are the European fire ants from? ›

The European fire ant (Myrmica rubra) is native to Europe and Asia and were first introduced to eastern North America in the 1900s. The ants were first recorded in BC in 2010 and have since been discovered in isolated locations throughout the Lower Mainland.

How do European fire ants spread? ›

In their native range, they likely spread by “budding”. This is where a mated queen and a group of worker ants split off from a colony and form a new one. They can also spread by sexual nuptial flights, where winged male ants fly off to mate with virgin queens from other colonies (Dunphy, 2016).

How do I get rid of European fire ants? ›

Bait-formulated pesticides are the most effective treatment. Baits consist of an insecticide blended with sugar, oil or protein food sources. They work better than insecticides applied directly to foraging ants because they are carried back to the nest and fed to queens and brood, thereby killing most ants in the nest.

Are there bullet ants in Europe? ›

It occurs in the region stretching from Portugal to East Siberia (as far as Transbaikalia), and from northern Greece to the forest-tundra zone in the North. It is also colonizing North America, where it is considered a pest species. These ants are very common in Europe and the UK and live in meadows and gardens.

How do fire ants affect the ecosystem? ›

A single fire ant can sting its target repeatedly. Young and newborn animals are especially susceptible to the stings' venom. These pests can damage the environment by displacing native ant species and reducing food sources for wildlife.

Are European fire ants poisonous? ›

True to their name, the sting from a fire ant causes painful burns. After biting, the ant uses its stinger to release a venom comprised of alkaloids, and proteins that can cause allergic reactions. Stings result in burning, itching and localized inflammation that can last for many days.

What eats European fire ants? ›

European fire ants have no natural predators in North America. Control and eradication is up to humans. For small infestations, bait stations using boric acid or borax can be effective in the short run.

Why are fire ants so invasive? ›

Red Imported Fire Ants are prolific breeders and aggressive feeders which make them a successful invader. Mounds can be hundreds of thousands of individuals strong, and multiple queen colonies exist whose individuals can move between mounds freely.

Why do fire ant bites itch? ›

Allergic reactions to fire ant stings

The blisters that develop after fire ant stings are allergic reactions, but some people develop more severe reactions. The areas immediately surrounding the sting may swell, burn, or itch. Anaphylaxis is less common but can be life threatening.

Do you get fire ants in Spain? ›

An electric ant colony (Wasmannia auropunctata) was detected recently in Marbella. This is the first time this species has been spotted in Europe.

Are there fire ants in Germany? ›

Myrmica rubra, also known as the European fire ant or common red ant, is a species of ant of the genus Myrmica, found all over Europe and in some parts of North America and Asia.

Are there fire ants in the UK? ›

European Fire Ant (Myrmica Rubra)

The European fire ant is of the Myrmica genus and may be found across all European countries, as well as in some parts of England. Its head is dark-coloured but the rest of its body is red, which makes the species easy to identify.

Why do fire ant bites itch? ›

Allergic reactions to fire ant stings

The blisters that develop after fire ant stings are allergic reactions, but some people develop more severe reactions. The areas immediately surrounding the sting may swell, burn, or itch. Anaphylaxis is less common but can be life threatening.

Videos

1. How fire ants are surviving Harvey's floodwaters
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2. The price of pests: Australia’s $390 billion invasive species bill
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3. Fire Ants & Zombie Ants
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4. Fire ants form floating rafts to escape Texas floods
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5. Invaders Among Us - Exploring North Carolina
(Exploring Creation)
6. Session 1-B: Risks, impacts, and innovative solutions
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