Along Happy Valley Road in Metchosin lies an ant hill so mighty, it has its own sign.
A common sight for passersby who live nearby, and a special find for those new to the area, the two-foot-high “Ant Nest” has been a part of a local couple’s property for two decades.
The Morrans, who asked to not have their full names included, have lived on their property for 40 years.
“A lot of people have never seen an ants’ nest,” Mrs. Morran said, adding that onlookers often stop to take pictures of the crawling insects. “A lot of people walk along the bank and it became a bit of a highlight for them.”
Rob Higgins, a professor at Thompson Rivers University and ant expert, said the species is most likely the “formica oreas,” also known as a thatching ant – the most common kind to live on southern Vancouver Island.
Thatching ants can have a painful bite and spray acid that will leave humans with a burning sensation. Their nests can start from a single queen ant and grow to a population of thousands.
“It isn’t really clear why they swarm onto the surface of the nest. They might be trying to warm their bodies and then take that heat back into the nest, or they might be trying to take overheated bodies from within the nest and radiate away the excess heat,” Higgins said.
“They will change the number of entrance holes in the thatch to control internal temperature. If it gets hot in the nest they will open more, and on a cold day, they will close most to keep heat in.”
While the sign is there to warn people, it could also draw the attention of bears, which are known to dig up the hills for food, Higgins said.
“I once saw a young bear just dipping his paws into a nest he had torn open and seemed to happily be licking the ants off of his paws.”
Luckily, Mrs. Morran told Black Press Media says the local bears have so far stayed clear.