Friday, September 4, 2009

Antopolis



Hamsterley Forest http://www.forestry.gov.uk/hamsterleyforest, which lies between Weardale and Teesdale, is home to an enormous variety of fascinating wildlife, ranging from nightjars and crossbills to adders, badgers and deer, but these wood ants are amongst the most amazing and perhaps the most numerous of all the animals in the forest. The bottom photo shows a nest, built of pine needles and often half a metre high. Each nest is reckoned to be home to around half a million ants. The ants’ nests are rather like icebergs, with most of the galleries and chambers hidden below the surface, and in some places there are several nests linked together underground, forming an ant metropolis. The top of the nest seethes with ants, constantly setting out in long columns on foraging expeditions that take them right to the top of tall conifers in search of small insects that they bring back to the brood. Understandably, the presence of these ants is welcomed by the foresters because this free pest-control workforce destroys a significant proportion of the pests that infest conifers, although the ants farm the aphids rather than killing them, collecting the sugary honeydew that the aphids excrete. It’s best not to hang around for too long when you’re photographing these nests, as the occupants quickly find a way up your trouser leg and have a very painful bite. You can read more about wood ants (and access photos and videos) at the following web siteshttp://www.treesforlife.org.uk/tfl.woodants.html
http://www.arkive.org/scottish-wood-ant/formica-aquilonia/
http://www.arkive.org/hairy-wood-ant/formica-lugubris/
http://www.arkive.org/southern-wood-ant/formica-rufa/

4 comments:

  1. They are certainly wonderful and industrious creatures, Phil. I keep looking at ant hills at Holystone Forest hoping I'll see a green woodpecker fly in for a take-away.

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  2. Amazing insects Phil. I'm sure if they were larger they'd rule the world.

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  3. Hi Emma, there are some wonderful meadow ant nests in the Bishop's park in Bishop Auckland, that attract a lot of green woodpeckers - but I haven't managed to get close enough for a photo yet.

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  4. Fascinating insects to watch, Keith.... one column of ants from this nest was using a fallen branch as a bridge across a stream.

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