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[All pictures of garden wildlife on this page are thumbnails. Click on any thumbnail for a large format to be displayed.]

Ants (Formicidae)

You might be surprised that ants belong to the family Formicidae, the flying insects. Several times a year though the ants actually do fly. The animals that take off are males and young queens. After impregnation which takes place high up in the air the males die and the queens try to find a place to start a new colony. The ants you normally see, hurrying from who-knows-where to who-wants-to-know-where-else are workers that never have wings. In most European gardens you will see the (Common) Black Ant (also known as Slave Ant or Silky Ant in the USA). It is a close relative of the well known Red Wood Ant.

To the left: Even the Black Ant (Formica fusca) develops winged specimens. To the right: probably a winged queen of the Southern (or Red) Wood Ant (Formica rufa).

Closely related to the Black Ant is the Yellow Meadow Ant, often simply referred to as Yellow Ant. It too forms large colonies, but it prefers grass in which it makes small heaps. It leaves mainly underground and is seldom seen running about in the garden like the Black Ant.

This is most probably the Yellow Meadow Ant (Lasius flavus).

Below is another yellow species. It resembles the species above, but definitely is not as the connection between the two main body parts is definetely different. This indicates that it is a Myrmica-species, most probably Myrmica rubra, the Red Ant, also called the European Red Ant. It has got a functional sting and the stings even hurt when acid is injected into the victim.

Another colourful species in our garden: most likely to be the Red Ant (Myrmica rubra).

The best known ant in all Britain is probably the Black Garden Ant. The name is slightly misleading as many individuals are dark brown rather than black. This species is present even in the tiniest gardens where it builds its underground nest along paths or under stones, sidewalks or even walls. It is an omnivorous animal. It will attack and kill other small insects, but will also take small cadavers, parts of plants, fungi or seeds into the nest. They love the honeydew produced by plant lice and will even actively milk the lice to obtain more juice. As a reward they will protect the aphids from small natural enemies, such as lady birds. Workers and males are from 3 to 5 mm in lenth, queens can reach the lenght of 9 mm. Queens can be seen in summer when the ants start to swarm. Being stingless they can bite if it feels attacked but they are hardly ever able to really penetrate the human skin. Their bites usually only cause a ticklish sensation.

The Black Garden Ant (Lasius niger) is probably the most common species all over Britain.

Ants form colonies, called states, that range in size from a few dozen predatory individuals living in small natural cavities to highly organised colonies which may occupy large territories and consist of millions of individuals. Keeping order such a large colonies requires a good organisation and hierarchy. This is the reason why there are various task-oriented types of ants within every colony: the queen, that produces the eggs, workers that collect food and look after the young, soldiers that protect the colony and finally males. Sometimes there are even various types of workers: with big heads to transport food or with small heads to look after the young. Some are constantly on the look out for new sources of food supply (they are called scouts).

Lasius niger ants farm aphids for food.

A simple flower is an entire world of its own to a tiny ant.

There are animals that live inside an ant colony. Just turn over some rocks and you might find not only the Black Garden Ant, but the white and blind Ant Woodlouse as well. Also some species of beetles live inside ant's nests. More on this remarkable woodlouse at the Centipedes Page.

The Ant Woodlouse (Platyarthrus hoffmannseggi) quickly disappears in the nest of Lasius niger, the Black Garden Ant.

Gardensafari Moths and Butterflies app for iPhone and iPod Touch Garden safari app 'Moths and Butterflies' is available at the appstore.

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