Here we have the Small Black Ant (Lasius niger) again. But what is he up to this time, you may wonder?
I found him on my Fatsia Japonica with these strange yellow ‘bumps’ which are in fact another species of scale insect called Viburnum Cushion Scale (Lichtensia viburni). And you guessed it, he is eating sweet sugary poop again.
The scale insect has piercing and sucking mouthparts which it uses to feed on sap obtained from the host plant (in this case Fatsia Japonica) which it secretes as waste called honeydew. Ants are attracted to the honeydew and feed on it. Ants will even act as body guards, protecting the scale insects from predatory attacks. This ant spent quite sometime with the scale insect, touching it with its antennae.
This is a fairly common red ant, and one which I tend to find in the grass verge out the front of my house when cutting it. The workers are 4-6mm (around 1/4 inch) long. I found difficulty in identifying them specifically, but with help and due thanks to Mike Fox from BWARS for confirming Myrmica ruginodis.
They are found in various habitats including woodland, grasslands and gardens. Common and widespread throughout great Britain, and probably our most commonest ant.
Double click on images to enlarge.
August 2017, front grass verge, Staffordshire, England.
The new queen ant which has fled the nest on its nuptial flight seems to be more interested in the ornate ball set atop the post of my decking. She seemed to be eating the decking oil (see image directly below) I had treated it with, which I have seen other ants do in the past. She was also a very clean queen, for she was always grooming herself. She must have been up there for at least 2 hours, and seemed very reluctant to leave.
I remember the very first time I encountered these large ants. It was on a school camping trip back in 1976 at the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. I was fascinated not only by their size and colour, but by the huge anthills they had buit to house their colonies. This experience would stay with me into adulthood, and fuel my interest and fascination for the natural world.
Also called the ‘Red Wood Ant’, the ‘Southern Wood Ant’, or the ‘Horse Ant’, this is one of the UK’s largest species of ant. The workers are brownish-red and black. There are several similar species so one has to take care in identification. Length worker 8 to 10mm, queen 12mm.
They are most active during the summer months. This ant has no sting, but can shoot formic acid from its abdomen when threatened or disturbed. It can also bite fiercely. Wood Ants are omnivores, but with a preference for other insects and invertebrates, although they are mainly scavengers
Found mainly in coniferous woodland, building large nests from pine needles, grass and twigs. Widespread but localised in England and Wales, found mainly in the south and south-east of England. It is absent from Ireland and Scotland.
A uniformly dark brown ant which has a single, scale-like waist segment. Length worker 3 to 5mm, queen 7 to 9mm.
The Black Garden Ant goes through four stages of development, from egg to larva, cocoon, and finally adult. They have a complex social order, with a worker caste and a queen. A mature ant colony may contain the queen and between 4,000 to 7,000 female workers. Black Garden Ants do not sting or spray formic acid like some other species of ant do.
Mating swarms occur in August during hot, humid weather. The winged females and males maybe seen in large numbers. Soon after mating the males die, where the females shed their wings and establish new colonies.
They harvest aphids for their sweet honeydew by stroking them with their antennae. They also protect aphids from predation, which does not go down well with gardeners in general. They will also feed on ripe fruits such a strawberries and raspberries, and will eat other invertebrates.
Almost anywhere, in tree stumps and under logs, and found under stones and paving in gardens where they build their nests in the soil. They also make their way into houses on food raiding expeditions where they may become a pest. Abundant and widespread throughout, and is the most seen ant in the UK.
Photograph taken July 2016, rear garden, Staffordshire.