Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ants and Adders

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary is an account of an encounter with ants and adders


























This massive wood ant's nest is on the side of a footpath through Hamsterley Forest on the edge of Weardale in County Durham. It's four years since we last followed this path and the nest is now almost a metre tall. There's as much nest below ground as above soil level and it's probably home to well over 250,000 ants.



















The nest is thatched with dead pine needles and its surface was covered with ants, either adding more thatch or bringing back honeydew that they'd collected from aphids high in the tree canopy.







































These ants attack intruders with great ferocity. This is what happened when I poked a stick into the top of the nest. You can see the powerful jaws biting the stick .....


























..... and here you can see how the ant curls its tail underneath, to squirt formic acid at the attacker.


























Those jaws are very painful when they grip your flesh, but .....






















... not as painful as a bite from this. My wife spotted this female adder sunbathing near the ant's nest. You can see how the snake has flattened herself out to absorb as much of the warmth of the autumn sun as possible.
























While I was photographing her I noticed two young adders, about the length of my index finger, slithering away in the grass, too quickly for me to get a photograph. Evidently we were standing in a favourite adder sun-basking spot. At this point the female became more defensive, although it's hard to say whether is was because she was defending her offspring or simply because she was tired of our intrusion in her siesta.

By now the angry ants had caught up with me and were biting myleg, so it was time to leave!

For more on adders click here

12 comments:

  1. I've never seen an ants nest like that before. Vicious little blighters by the sound of it.
    That Adder was a great find too. Some beautiful pictures of her.

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    1. The ants' nests are amazing because the galleries extend as far underground as they do above the surface. They were deliberately introduced to control forest insect pests and now some of the nests are enormous and are probably linked together underground. They are without doubt the single most numerous animal in Hamsterley forest now! Great food source for green woodpeckers!

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  2. The Adder is a good find.
    I have never seen an ants nest anything like this size.

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    1. Me neither Adrian - it's a monster!

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  3. Those ants look really ferocious! The termite colonies here are also very huge and extend underground .Bt they have no thatched roof. Beautiful shots of the adder.

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  4. We do get Ants around here but thankfully I've only come across ones under stones so far, give them a miss.. but I would love to see a snake in the wild just the once..
    Amanda xx

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    1. They are lovely creatures Amanda - wish we had grass snakes around here too

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  5. That's far bigger than any Wood Ant's nest I've ever seen, Phil! What a privilege to see that beautiful Adder and her young. Best wishes - - Richard

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    1. I wonder how big the nest will get? I'd guess that it must been there for about a decade....

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  6. Not seen an Adder flatten out like that amazing
    Brian

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    1. I'm wondering whether it might have just given birth......?

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