Fire ants causing havoc on Vancouver International Airport runways

The invasive fire ant is creating mayhem on Vancouver airport runways. The species continue to make way virtually into every district in the Lower Mainland.

Last summer, these species were responsible for causing runway delays at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) as birds swarmed to eat the ants are crashed into several planes.

This has forced airport officials to close the runway for five to eight minutes each time to clear away the mess.

Jennifer Grenz, project manager of the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver said, "On a warm day it's going to look like an ant volcano exploded out of the ground. That's how aggressive they are”.

The havoc caused by aggressive behavior of these species has forced the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) to tear up its tracks along the Arbutus corridor on Vancouver’s westside.

In order to eradicate the species, the CP Rail is burning the soil along the tracks. It will also burn the rail ties to ensure the ants aren’t transported to another location.

In order to examine the extent of these tiny aggressive insects, Thompson Rivers University entomologist Rob Higgins has been conducting surveys of known fire ant infestations and doing random sampling throughout southwestern British Columbia (B.C.).

Although his initial investigation focused on the European fire ants, the research took a turn, after a Burnaby entomologist sent Higgins a sample of a fire ant discovered at his home a few years ago.

He took the ant along and determined that it is Myrmica specioides, a lesser known species from Europe that undergoes mating flights every summer.

He also got a call from Vancouver International Airport’s wildlife program, which urged Higgins to start researching on the impressive fire ant. David Bradbeer, a runway wildlife specialist at YVR, said that the problem started last year.

These species are difficult to control or eradicate, even with pesticides. Higgins said while he and David Bradbeer, a runway wildlife specialist at YVR, are trying to run an experiment at YVR to control the ants, it could take a year to get the permits.