Sunday, 25 September 2016

Post 439 - Numerous Wonderous & Astounding - Northern Wood Ant

A Northern Wood Ant (Formica lugubris)
Hey guys, this is post 439, and I've been out and about as usual but because of the lovely warm weather lately I've seen quite a lot of insects, more than I remember seeing in my summer holidays! On one walk Dad and I went on we were looking for a Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve called Birch Wood. We didn't actually find it (as it was on a completely different road!) but went for a great woodland walk and we did see lots of nice wildlife while we were there. One particular thing, although it was actually quite a lot of things, was the Northern Wood Ant.

I did a post generally about ants a little while ago but these wood ants are amazing creatures to watch and I had to find out more about them, so, here are some facts:

  • They are Red Listed in the UK as they are Classed as Local and on the Scottish Biodiversity List.
  • Wood ants are the largest UK ants and are about 1cm long.

  • Another name for them is the 'Hairy Wood Ant', strange because I didn't actually see any hair on them at all! But, to be fair, you would need a microscope!
  • The extent of the wood ant's population reaches as far up in the Highlands of Scotland to, sometimes, the South of Wales.

  • In these areas there are many local colonies most of which appear to be stable at the moment.

  • Like I say they live in colonies which can have up to half a million ants in them! This is quite amazing as sometimes there is only one queen that lays all the eggs!
  • You can probably guess from their name that these ants live in woods. They like coniferous or mixed woodlands mainly.

Some of the ants pointed their abdomens at us -
squirting formic acid in defence 
  • Wood ants make up a very important part of the eco-system in the forests as they eat insects that are pests to the trees such as the bordered white moth Bupalus piniaria which can defoliate pines.
  • I found these ants walking quite a long way into the forest as they were on our route for quite a while, even crossing a little bridge we had to cross. They emerge from the nests working in long lines like this to gather prey. Sometimes they will gather honeydew from aphids on trees (by stroking them!) and other times they will hunt invertebrates. 
  • They can kill small prey with their pincers, larger prey will be attacked by lots of ants working together. They can use formic acid which they squirt from their abdomens for attack too. This can be squirted up to 5cm by the ants and is also used in defence.

  • All the workers in the colony are Female and, as they are not developed, don't reproduce. They can, interestingly, lay eggs, but they are used only as a food.

  • The Males, though, don't really do ANTything ;) and their only purpose is to mate with the queen.

  • Going back to the workers, they do really as their name suggests, they bring food in, keep the nest standing and tend to the queen. 

    Some were carrying pine needles but dropped them
    as we went by.
  • The nest can be over one metre high and 2.5m in diameter, but the tunnels extend into the ground where most of the ants spend their time.
  • The ants nests' are made up of pine needles, quite a lot of them, but the ants take a lot of care in placing the needles so that they act like a thatched roof and keep water out.
  • Many tunnels line the nest and one of the ways that the ants control the nest temperature is to open and close tunnels to let air flow through. Also they make the next a bit flatter on the south side of the nest so it can absorb more heat from the sun.
  • A final way they can warm up the nest is to send workers out to sunbathe. Once they've warmed up they return to the nest brood chambers and act like little radiators releasing the heat they got from sunbathing.

I didn't have time when I was out for my walk to find the nest. Dad seems to remember seeing one a few years ago but now I've read about them I want to see one as they sound amazing. Dr Roger Key also told me about a beetle larvae that live in the nests sometimes and is protected by the colony, in the spring I might be able to see the adult leaf beetle which is yellow - sounds great so I want to find the nest soon.

Before I finish off the post I'd like to say thank you to all of the people that took part in my Thunderclap and thank everyone that has signed my petition. There were exactly 5,600 signatures on it when I checked earlier! That's great, over halfway to a government response now! If you don't know about my petition you can read about it here, basically it's about trying to get some strong laws to protect our wildlife when the EU laws don't apply after #brexit. If you agree please sign up and tell others about it please.

Oh, and one last thing, when I went out again for a walk near Rievaulx and we took a different route home, Dad had worked out where Birch Wood actually was so I had a quick stop off. Now we've found it I think I'll enjoy exploring this place in the Autumn, looks like it will be great for fungi and lovely autumnal colours as the leaves start to change colour.

Hope you enjoyed,



  1. Loved this post Zach, the shots you got are amazing too! - Tasha

  2. Great macro again Zach. You always give great detailed writings, thank you.