04/25/2015 12:09 EDT | Updated 07/25/2015 02:47 EDT

Fire ant removal fight heats up with $100K grant for B.C. man

The fight against fire ants is heating up this summer, as Rob Higgins, a research biologist at Thompson Rivers University, attempts to eradicate the pesky insects with the help of a $100,000 grant from the province.

Fire ants are native to Europe and are an invasive species that has spread throughout North America. In B.C., they can be found along the coast and the Fraser Valley. In a recent outbreak, they were even found in Naramata.

"They are aggressive and they have a stinger, which they do not hesitate to use," Higgins told Daybreak Kamloops' Shelley Joyce.

"When you walk on the ground they begin to swarm and they attack anything in the vicinity, so if you've got young children you just aren't comfortable putting them out."

Freezing, boiling, burning

Fire ants are notoriously difficult to get rid of, and Higgins is working on new ways to exterminate them.

"We have tried quite a number of things that have not worked very well," he said.

"We've tried digging them out and freezing and boiling and steaming and burning, but one of the problems with this ant is when you disturb the nest with a shovel, a lot of the queens and workers escape through these lateral tunnels."

Higgins said last year one method did show promise. It involved digging out the soil of the nest, isolating it in a bucket, treating it with permethrin — a low-concentration pesticide — and then returning that soil to the ground.

This summer, Higgins and his team will be taking samples from areas around B.C. to get a better sense of how dense the fire ant populations are in different parts of the province. 

He will also continue to try different ways of exterminating the ants.

To hear the full interview with Rob Higgins, listen to the audio labelled: The fight against fire ants.