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Scotland’s winged Wood Ants

Posted on Aug 08, 2013 by Jonathan Willet

What Lives in a Nest 5 Feet High?

I was out in the woods of Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms National Park at the beginning of July and walking along the path I noticed an impressive nest of the Scottish Wood Ant right beside it. Theses ants have the biggest and most obvious nests in the forest, there are two other species of Wood Ants but they have smaller, less obvious nests. This nest is unmistakable as it was made of pine needles and about two feet high and two feet across, but nests can be as high as 5 feet! As it was a sunny and warm day the top of the nest was swarming with black ants with red waists. This is pretty standard behaviour for ants as they use the warmth of the sun to heat up the inside of the nest. They absorb the heat of the sun and then scuttle into the depths of the nest and act as miniature radiators. The interior of a big nest can be nearly 30 degrees Celsius and can remain fairly constant at this throughout the year.

Natural Pest Control

What really caught my eye was that there were lots of winged ants on the surface of the nest. These are primarily males who develop from unfertilized eggs. Their sole purpose is to fly and find a female and mate with her. This flight of males happens between June and September and in each nest all the males will emerge and fly at the same time. The females will emerge too but in much smaller numbers and once they find a suitable male and mate they will land and drop their wings and form a new colony or move into an existing one. Unlike Honey Bees there can be several or many queens in one ant nest. Ants provide an important pest control service to the forest by foraging in nearby trees and collecting many insects from them to fee the nest. This service is so important that in some continental European foresters they will “seed” plantations with wood ant nests to provide this free pest control. The other amazing thing about the wood ants is that they need trees to forage on or they will starve. So the wood ants are only found in areas where woodland cover has been a constant feature, our irreplaceable ancient woodlands. To find out much more have a look at the Highland Biological Recording Group’s website, where you can download the brand new Highland Ant Atlas. It is full of fascinating facts and distribution maps of the ants found in the Highlands.

Have You Seen My Ant?

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About the author

Jonathan Willet

Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.

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