Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Wood Ants Revisited

Last week Sprog3 (8yo) was looking through his 'tick as you see' nature book and told me he wanted to see a Wood Ant.
Hmmm I thought, remembering I'd found a colony in Chopwell Woods back in the summer of 2005, but despite promising myself to revisit, (and numerous visits to other parts of the wood) I haven't been back to that particular spot in 12 years; so decided to check it out today before taking him along just in case they were no longer there.

With mbh we parked at Lintzford and walked into the woods. "Just keep looking down at the path" I said, "They were just along here", at which point I spotted the first large 2-tone ant scurrying across the path in front of me, followed by another, and another, and by the time we'd walked another 20 yards or so the track was becoming more and more densely populated by these cracking little creatures, obviously thriving well in the 12 years since I last saw them.

Not easy to photograph as they forage non-stop, and standing in one place too long gave another danger in that they would start to crawl all over me boots, (I didn't fancy being bitten or sprayed with formic acid.) But luckily mbh found a couple of workers carrying some sort of grub, at a bit slower pace so at least I could get a half decent photo.

Wood Ant workers, not the easiest creatures to photograph, always in a rush.

Finding something to carry slows them down, but my camera skills let me down

This was just a fleeting visit really to see if they were still present, our primary reason for being out and about was I needed to take some photos around the 9-arches viaduct for a project I'm soon to be working on and that was our next stop. But I was like an excited kid, I've always liked ants, kept a formicarium of red garden ants in the house when I was a boy, loved watching them.
"I'll definitely make a point in coming back with a bit more time to get some better photos and try and track down the nest" I said, at which point my eyes came in contact with a seething living mass to the side of the path, literally tens of thousands of wood ants on the nest like one big living organism, just a crawling mass. Even mbh was impressed, neither of us had ever seen so many ants before.
I didn't want to get too close for obvious reasons but reeled off a few shots from a safe distance.

In a sunny spot near the woodland edge, something moves

Closing in, you can't tell from a still but this was simply alive

closer still, you can start making out the individuals

fantastic sight

As close as I dare get, a tiny section of the bigger picture 

There are winged individuals in there somewhere, wood ants fly in the spring, as opposed to mid to late summer
of the garden ants.
I can't be 100% certain of the species as the southern wood ant (formica rufa) and the northern or hairy wood ant (formica lugubris) overlap in the northern counties of England, but my hunch is lugubris, as the hairs make them look dull in comparison with the shiny armoured rufa. Next time I'll capture a worker to study in close-up and find out for definite.  

All in all, finding the nest was an impressive sight, I'll deffo be back, with sprog3 for a start so he can tick his book (I hope 400,000 are enough for him), but hopefully when time allows over the summer I'll get to spend a bit of quality time and get some better macro shots. Might wear a spacesuit though ;-)  

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