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Ant Species

British ants-Family Formicidae.

1.Ponera coarcta.} the only ponerine ant to be found this far north, more common in warmer European countries!!  Ponerinae has a mixture of very primitive and highly evolved forms.
2.Myrmica- 8 species.} these are the dreaded 'stinging' ants. 
3.Stenamma westwoodii}- not easily found, as it is confined to only a small area of the south.
4.Solenopsis- 2 species.
5.Leptothorax- 5 species.
6.Tetramorium caespitum.
7.Tapinoma erraticum. -fastest moving of all the U.K.species.
8.Lasius- 9 species.
9.Formica- 11 species; probably the most diverse and widely distributed of all the British ants.
10.Anergates atratulus.} parasitic species,especially of Tetramorium.
11.Strongylognathus testaceus.} the 2nd parasitic ant species.
12.Myrmecina graminicola.
13.Formicoxenus nitidulus.
14.There are some others I've not mentioned as they are so rare,you are  unlikely to come across them.


Ants that are social parasites !


Strongylognathus

This is one of 2 ant genera that is parasitic on Tetramorium in this country. Its workers are about the same size as the Tetra.workers; while its queens are not much bigger and contrast notably with the large, black queen of Tetramoruim. It seems to exist mainly in Hampshire and Dorset with a few infestations along the South coast into Devon; but not as far West as Cornwall or East into Sussex.

Anergates

This is the other ant, which is a parasite of Tetramorium nests. It has no workers of its own, only queens and curiously shaped, wingless males. Again, it only appears in central southern England. The Anergates queens enter the host nest, with little, or no opposition; they just walk in. These queens are then fed by the Tetra.workers and they lay many eggs; all of which produce more sexuals and no workers of their own. It seems that the workers of Tetramorium then neglect to feed their own queen, resulting in her starving to death; if in fact, she is not actually killed by her own daughters. This leads to the death of the host colony after a year or two.

In contrast, this ant is less effective as a social parasite than Strongylognathus, which does have workers of its own to help it survive for a much longer time.

Sifolinia

A parasitic ant that invades the nests of Myrmica species. It has none of the defects of the preceeding 2 parasitic species, as it does without its own workers and allows the host queen(s) to continue producing workers, but inhibits any sexual brood to be born into the host nest. The Myrmica workers rear winged sexual males and female Sifolinia however, which are then free to fly off and mate and to parasitize other Myrmica nests. Fortunately only a few nests succumb to the parasitic invasion of this ant, so most live out their lives as normal Myrmica only colonies.

 


Ant Genes

 

Genes; yes ants have them too (and no jokes about ants wearing Levi's or Wranglers please). In fact, all living creatures strive as hard as possible to pass forward their genetic code, usually through some sort of sexually reproductive method. But I am not going to bore anyone with the complexity of DNA and RNA molecules here, as that's a subject best left to scientific experts!

Ants have the ability to pass on their genes via the production of young male and female sexuals, which in most cases are capable of winged flight; and so can spread the species over a wide range of territory like the dispersed seeds of a dandelion flower. A queen ant has some control over the development of eggs, and therefore can determine whether to produce males, females or both; as these will become alates (winged sexually mature ants). It is the workers however that exert control over whether larvae become young queens or turn into workers.

It would appear that the workers in a mature, more established nest, move the larvae to areas where the humidity and temperature are more suited to the development of sexuals; and that they also feed these "sexual larvae" on a different diet to that given to worker larvae. Thus, although worker ants do not themselves have the means to pass on their genes, being completely sterile and having under-developed ovaries; the genetic code of the species is carried by their sisters who hatch out as young queens. Male ants also pass on the code by inseminating virgin queens, either from their own nest via brother/sister matings, or from mating with virgin queens from other nests of the same species.

The reason ant nests send out such a high number of sexuals each year is, that the rate of success for young queens to mate and then start their own nesting colony, is unfortunately for them, extremely low! Something like 97% will die, either during, or shortly after their mating flight; more often than not from predation by birds, spiders and even other ants. Despite suffering such heavy losses however, enough young queens are successful enough to ensure the continued survival of the species. So, even when an old queen dies, her gene pool lives on in the resulting "daughter colonies" and their decendants, which makes an ant genus or species virtually indestructable and immortal; as in theory a colony could survive forever. While I seriously doubt this, I can imagine that some polygynous (multiple queens) species could maintain a nesting colony for many years, even a century or more. Who can say?

 

Ant Invaders.


Monomorium

This ant, commonly known as the "Pharaoh's ant" , is really an invader to our country. It cannot live outdoors, apart from when the summers here are hot and dry; but survives in heated buildings such as hotels and hospitals. I remember when I was training to be a nurse, it was Christmas and I was on night duty. The nurse in charge told me to have a box of dates which was in the ward office and I am extremely fond of eating. Late that night, I opened them; only to find a seething mass of tiny, red ants; so small, you could only just see them.

The ward was infested with this little critter. These ants live in crevices, usually near a source of heat like a radiator. They have dozens of queens which mate in the nest, then they spread their numbers by using the 'budding' system mentioned in the wood ants page. There are so many queens, that they only need a few dozen or so workers each to form large colonies in a very short time. As each queen can lay many hundreds of eggs per day, it does not take long for a major infestation to happen. They make up a vast 'super colony', which can eat almost anything and never has disputes over territory, as the colonies are all related to each other. As long as they have constant warmth and plenty of food, they 'live long and prosper', to qoute Mr Spock, the Vulcan Officer friend of Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek fame. So, as you can see, ants are extremely adaptable; no wonder they have survived for millions of years.

Formica sanguinea.

These are the aptly named "Blood Red Ants" for this species is also a slave raider of other related ant species.In appearance they look very much like their close relative, Formica rufa; but there the similarity ends!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This species is often referred to as Raptiformica, for like the Velociraptor of the dinosaurs, these ants are very skilled at hunting and killing; particularly other ants, such as Formica fusca whose nests they often raid for plundering brood.

When an attack is made upon a nest of F. fusca, they do not resist strongly in defence; but instead they retreat quickly, taking as much brood as they can with them. This makes sense, as the F. sanguinea are much more powerful and generally decapitate the fusca defenders with one swift bite.
Plenty of fusca larvae and pupae are captured and taken back to the raiders nest. At least half of the captured brood will be eaten and fed to the colony; but around 30% of the fusca brood will survive and reach maturity. These ants then become the "slaves" of the sanguinea nest, though in reality they work no harder as captives than they would in their own mother nest.

Formica sanguinea are quite rare in Britain, being found mainly in the south below the M4 motorway.
There a few isolated pockets where nests may be found in Wales and again in Scotland; but these are few and far between.
They prefer to nest on open heathland with sandy soil, building a small mound of dirt covered lightly with the odd bits of vegetation and small twigs from trees.

A newly fertilized queen of this species will actively seek out a nest of F. fusca or related species. She then collects pupae from the host nest and defends them against all comers. Once these hatch, the resulting workers accept the parasite queen as their own. The true queens are eventually killed off, either by the sanguine queen, or the fusca workers she has raised.
Gradually the colony becomes a mixture of both fusca and sanguinea, until finally there are enough raiders to go out and capture yet more "slaves"!

Although it is essential for a queen of F. sanguinea to enter the nest of fusca to begin a colony; it is not totally necessary for it to continue, as the "slave makers" can exist just as well without their "slaves" if they have to. Over a period of time, Formica sanguinea will take in new queens, as like others of this genus they are polygynous; though their colonies do not appear to have large queen numbers like one may find in say, a nest of wood ants.

Formica rufa.

This is the red wood ant found in many European countries, while in Britain it is restricted mostly to parts of Wales and southern England up as far as the midlands, though there are some isolated pockets of rufa nests even as far north as the Lake District.

Formica rufa is the first true wood ant species that I first came into contact with in Herefordshire, and this ant makes very impressive mounds of up to one and a half metres (5 feet) in height. The nest may also be 3 metres (12 feet) across, and can be home to between 250,000 and 300,000 ants.


There can be several hundred queens in a very large colony, as this species is polygynous (having more than 1 queen per nest). Though most nest mounds have from 20 to 75 queens on average.
Mating flights of Formica rufa always take place around early to mid June, and are over by the end of this month, never later than the last week of June. This is because both the male and female sexuals are produced very early, from late Winter into Spring from eggs laid deep in the nest, even while there may still be heavy ground frost on the upper parts of the nest in February.

Rufa is a lovely looking ant with both major and minor workers covering at least 5 size differentials. The head and gaster are a dull brown with darker shiny bands on the gaster, while the thorax and rear part of the head have a fluorescent orange appearance.
When threatened, the worker ants straddle their legs wide apart and bring their gaster forward underneath the head. They then fire a jet of formic acid reaching up to 6 or 7 inches (approx. 15cms) into the air.
They will squirt acid at any predator or threat, including humans and even fire. I once saw ants of this species spray their jets of acid during a forest fire when it threatened to consume their nest, as a human would spray water to protect their home from fire. Of course the acid did not stop the fire; but at least the ants tried their best, just like we would.

A favoured way of reproducing nests is done by a process called the "budding" system. This involves a queen, or even several queens, leaving the mother nest with a few hundred workers and setting up one or more daughter colonies several metres away from the parent nest.
Both the mother nest and the outer nests keep in contact with each other, and in the event of any nest failing to thrive, then they can move back to the main colony.
Thus what may appear to be a group of nests, is in reality one large super-nest dispersed over a wider area, which helps a lot to expand their hunting territory.

Other related wood ant species found in Britain are Formica aquilonia and Formica lugubris, while in many European countries Formica polyctena is also quite common.

 


Formica lemani.


Anyone who has ever seen this ant could easily mistake it for F. fusca, except for one main difference. Formica lemani is much hairier than its cousin.
However, fusca is only found mainly in the south of England, going up as far as Wales, Cheshire and Derbyshire in the north; whereas F. lemani on the other hand is to be found from Cornwall in the south, up through Wales and going as far north as the highlands of Scotland.
Indeed, this species has even colonized most parts of Ireland, whereas F. fusca has only managed to gain a small foothold in the extreme south of Eire.
This species belongs to the genera, Formicinae. A family of ants whose eyes have large ocelli and very distinct long legs. Lemani is a medium sized, black ant of a dull coal/charcoal grey appearance closely related to Formica fusca. Like many formicine ants, it sprays formic acid from the end of the gaster.
Unlike some Formica, lemani is a fairly peaceful ant, happy to live under stones in open heathland and farm pastures.
The queens are approximately 13mm, while workers vary from 5 to 7mm in length.

Being a polygynous species, they have several queens per nest, the average being between 7 and 10.
Like many ants of this genus, they can and do, spray formic acid; though not as impressively as their wood ant cousins.

Nest sites are commonly located under stones and flat rocks, such as may be found in an old quarry. The nest is usually dug into moist soil, though occasionally they may be found nesting in dry stone walls or stone bridges.
They prefer the nest to be sited in a cooler facing aspect than fusca, and tend to therefore only forage when the sun is at its highest.

Like other Formica ants, the larvae spins a cocoon. Alate male pupae are the same size as that of the workers, and are difficult to distinguish; but the alate female (Queen) pupae cocoon are much bigger, being nearly 3 times larger than both male and worker pupae.
Occasionally the nests of lemani may be found to be co-existing with Myrmica ruginodis or M. rubra. When such duo nests occur, there is no major evidence of open hostility from either species, as even when the nest is opened the workers from each family seem to ignore one another.
When ants of opposing factions from different neighbouring nests meet up however, it more often than not leads to warfare on a grand scale.

 

 

Lasius flavus.


These are a small yellow looking ant, which are generally a monogynic species (having only 1 queen per nest), although there are reports of them possibly becoming polygynous as they will often tolerate more than 1 queen in captivity.
It is widespread over the entire British Isles, including the Scilly Isles, some of the islands off Scotland and in many parts of Ireland.
In fact, this species is one of the most common UK species; though it is also one of the least seen as it spends most of its time underground, only foraging on the surface during the hours of darkness.

The best time to see L. flavus is perhaps during their mating flights in late July or early August, when hundreds of winged alate males and females burst forth accompanied by the tiny yellow workers.

The nest consists of a soil mound which eventually becomes covered with small plant life. It is quite possibly the most accomplished soil nest builder of any of the British ants.
Population estimates can reach 24,000; but an average of between 10,000 and 13,000 is more like the norm!

Spending most of their lives below ground, they tend to forage for root aphids and other underground dwelling invertebrates. Oddly the caterpillar of the Chalk Hill Blue butterfly (Lysandra coridon) is taken into the nests of L. flavus where it is tended lovingly and covered with soil for its protection.

Nest mounds are built with a southerly or westerly aspect to catch the warmth of the sun, as this creates a suitable microclimate for the inhabitants. Even the shade thrown by short grasses may deter the queens of this species starting a colony; and the taller grasses will even extinguish a fully mature nest causing total extinction of the colony.

The larvae of L. flavus spin a cocoon in which to pupate. The adult workers do not sting or even spray formic acid, but can exude acid from the tip of their gaster to overcome prey or defend themselves.
From recent observations I have found that newly mated queens of this species co-operate far more in colony founding than most other Lasius species.
Whereas Lasius niger queens either kill each other once they have workers, or the workers adopt the fittest and strongest queen, L. flavus prefer to just split up the colony after a period of being polygynous and then become monogynous.


Each queen takes some workers and brood and moves away from the others. Only if space is limited will fights break out and the strongest wins all. Weaker colonies may well die out, leaving the survival of the fittest; but flavus are far less warlike and aggressive than their niger cousins.
Perhaps for this latter reason Lasius flavus tend to adopt a more peaceful attitude to life, as they will co-exist with other species like other Lasius and even Myrmica. Lasius niger on the otherhand are far more hostile and will attack and wipe out smaller nests of ants, although again they seem to tolerate flavus living close by as probably the competition for food is far less than with surface foraging ants.

None aggression pacts seem to be the order of the day with Lasius flavus, as they appear to have a "live and let live" policy.
 

 

Lasius niger.


Probably the most encountered ant species here in mainland Britain is Lasius niger. It is widely distributed throughout the British Isles, but appears to be absent in some areas of Ireland and Scotland.
Found most commonly in bushy scrubland and gardens, or even wetland areas are favoured habitats; it also appears in grassland where it can nest under stones or even inhabit the upper parts of Lasius flavus mounds.

There is evidence that L. niger prefers to excavate nests in moist soil ( more so than any other British ant species ), and is often found under paving stones where the soil stays relatively damp.
It is a small ant, dull black in colour, with short erect hairs on the scape of its antennae.
Niger will often invade human dwellings in her search for food, and is attracted to the kitchen for obvious reasons. My own home has had many visitations from curious Lasius niger workers foraging around our kitchen, even though Jenant and I live in a first floor apartment; so the people under us must have had Niger visits also !

Colony numbers can be as many as 13,000 individuals, with the average nest population being between 5,000 to 7,000 ants. Not bad for a species that is monogynic, having just 1 queen per colony.
One queen per colony is probably a less common number than more than one. Single queens often co-operate with each other in the initial stage of colony founding, and then break up and go their seperate ways afterwards.
Queens will either simply disperse, going off with some of the brood to form their own colony elsewhere; or they may fight, and the winner gets to keep it all. Rarely will they fight to the death, unless there is nowhere for the defeated queens to escape to, such as in a captive colony in an Ant Farm etc.
This happens only in monogynous ants such as Lasius, whereas in a polygynic species like Myrmica, the queens will stay together throughout the entire lifetime of the nest.

Despite their relatively small size, L. niger workers are strong and aggressive ants which spray formic acid. They are bold in battle, either with prey or an enemy, and can certainly alert each other quickly; but seem to have a somewhat limited ability to co-ordinate their actions.
They are however, extremely good at following a scent trail laid down by foraging scouts; especially when a food source such as a pot of jam or honey is at the end of it !

All in all, Lasius niger is perhaps the most successful ant species in the U.K. to date; being very proliferous and adaptable to environmental changes, usually caused by human interference !!

 

 

Myrmica ruginodis.


This small red ant is found well dispersed throughout the British Isles. A typical nest usually contains between 1,200 and 2,500 individuals.
Queen numbers vary; but around 10 to 20 is normal for this species.

Without a doubt, Myrmica species have the most widespread distribution in the U.K. in terms of genus.
For the most part, they are orangey- red, to reddish brown in colour. Colonies are usually small, rarely exceeding 3000 workers. They have a very effective and painful sting, much like that of a stinging nettle; but much worse, especially if you have a low pain tolerance !

Myrmica ruginodis is the only species to have reached the Isle of Shetland to the north of Scotland; and so far, it is the only ant found in all 152 vice- counties in Britain.

Their diet consists of aphids, fly larvae and adult flies, spiders etc. They will also eat the flesh of dead birds and mammals which they may come across when foraging.
Their preference for nest building is to dig out tunnels and galleries under flat stones, often in meadows and farm pastureland. If no stones are available, they will cut out a nest in the soft wood of rotting tree stumps.
In the winter months, ruginodis retreat underground and hibernate.
The average colony population of a M. ruginodis nest is between 1,200 and 1,500 individuals.
Whereas ruginodis macrogyna is found all over the U.K., microgyna is limited to the north and west. Microgyna also reproduces colonies via the budding system, whereas Macrogyna only uses mating flights to found new colonies.

The species is divided into 2 distinct sub-species.

1) M. ruginodis macrogyna.
As the name implies, this has large queens of which there are normally between 7 and 12 found per nest. Macro=large, Gyna= female (Queen).

2) M. ruginodis microgyna.
This has very small queens which are similar in size to its workers, and are therefore very hard to distinguish as such. There may be up to 100 queens found in each nest, and it is believed that evolution is forming 2 very distinct seperate species from each sub-species.
Micro=small or tiny.

Both forms look very much like Myrmica rubra, except that on ruginodis the epinotal spines are twice as long as on rubra.
Like all myrmicines they have larvae which pupate within a pupal skin, and do not spin a cocoon like Lasius or Formica ants do.

Myrmica also have a sting, which is a specialy adapted extension of the poison gland sac. They produce a toxin which is formed of formic acid with other substances, such as peptides and amino acids, as found in bee and wasp stings. Histamine is a main component of the venom, and it is believed that these chemicals act like a snakes venom to begin the actual digestion of prey food items after they have been stung.

 

Myrmica scabrinodis.


Closely related to M. sabuleti, this ant is reddish-brown in appearance; but much smaller and with many more queens in each colony.
The workers will tolerate colder temperatures than other Myrmica, and it is often found foraging long after other ants have retreated into the nest to hibernate.
This species is widespread throughout the British Isles and Eire, although it is most highly concentrated south of the M4 motorway which runs from London into south Wales; with Kent, Sussex and Devon appearing to have the most colonies.
However, M. scabrinodis can even be found as far north as the Scottish Highlands.

This ant will inhabit gardens, though it seems far more at home in Lowland Heath-lands in England; occasionally occupying Lasius flavus mounds, where it has even been known to evict the residents from their home in some instances.
Such areas of suitable Heathland occur in East Anglia ( The Brecklands in particular ), the Sussex Wealds, the New Forest area of Hampshire, Dorset and parts of Devon.

Scabrinodis is also much more of a predatory scavenger than her cousins. Not only does she hunt in shorter grass than say, M. ruginodis; but workers will also strip the flesh from dead birds and small mammal carcasses !

As previously mentioned, this ant keeps workers close to the surface of the soil all winter. This has an advantage in that workers can protect the nest more readily in spring, when other ants may try to invade the surface galleries.
Another major difference between Scabrinodis and Ruginodis is, the latter makes large chambers with thin walls supported by vegetation; while Scabrinodis prefers to make many smaller rooms with thick, mud-plastered walls that support themselves.

 


Tapinoma erraticum.


Belonging to the sub-family Dolichoderinae, this is the only representative species in Britain.
It is a small black ant with many queens per colony. Though widely distributed across most of Europe, it is confined to central, southern England only in the UK.

Nesting in open heathland, the nest consists of a very small mound no more than 10cm across, and usually covered with light vegetation, which makes up some of the internal structure of said nests.
Tapinoma tends to be semi nomadic in habit, and often moves from one nest site to another during the warmer summer months.
The workers of this species are easily recognizable from other British black ants, as they run around very fast, in a very erratic manner, with their gaster raised well above the ground.

Foragers lay extremely strong scent trails which can last for several days, as long as strong winds or heavy rain storms do not remove them.
For defence, these ants rely more on their speed to flee from a fight or predator, as they do not appear to use formic acid, neither do they possess a sting!

Their swiftness at running and being able to move much faster and nimbler than other ants gives them an edge, as their hunters are undoubtedly the cheetah of the ant world when it comes to agility.
Perhaps the best place to find Tapinoma is on the wide stretches of open heath that cover many square miles of the New Forest, in Hampshire, England.
Just look for a fast moving black speck that tends to disappear before you have chance to focus on it, and you've almost certainly found a foraging worker of the ant species Tapinoma erraticum.


 

 

Tetramorium caespitum.


                   

Tetramorium caespitum is the only species of this genus to inhabit Britain (as this genus is predominantly African). It is a small, black myrmicine ant widely spread over Europe, but is restricted in the British Isles to the south, and only to coastal regions further north.
It is also found in the USA where it is given the name of the Pavement Ant.

Where Tetramorium does find a foothold along the northern coastal areas of Britain, such as the north Norfolk coast and north Wales; these types of habitat have a high incidence of warm spring sunshine, so that the surface of the soil is warmed up early in the season.
Also on the western coast, the temperature does fall very far during winter.

Tetramorium caespitum makes large, highly organized colonies in lowland heathland in the south of England. In the autumn it collects and stores seeds of heather and grasses for spring feeding.
Two myrmicine genera are parasitic on T. caespitum in Britain. The first is Strongylognathus testaceus, which has workers of approximately the same size as the host, but they are pale brown and have curved, toothless mandibles. Also the sexuals are not much bigger and contrast strikingly with the much larger black Tetramorium queen. This parasitic ant is rare, even where it is known to exist in the counties of Dorset and Hampshire.
The second parasite is Anergates atratulus. This species has no workers and curiously shaped wingless males.
Again, this has only been found in central, southern England. Very few T. caespitum nests become parasitized; and this is so even in France, where both the host ant and the parasite are widespread.

Tetramorium is a skilled excavator and digs out a vast system of tunnels and chambers which go down a metre or more into the sandy soil. From this type of nest, many galleries stretch out in all directions under the soil surface, which is formed of lichens and algaes.
Usually the excavated soil is washed or blown away, but if any soil accumulates around the roots of plants, then a mound nest is constructed.

This is a monogynous species, though it does produce a large number of sexuals. Nests in southern heathland may yield a maximum of 1,500 males and 800 females, but average figures are generally smaller, more like 280 males and 170 females. The numbers of sexuals greatly depends upon whether the summer is wet or dry, as a wet summer reduces the output of winged sexuals vastly.

Tetramorium caespitum is extremely territorial, and dense clusters of hundreds of workers will be found fighting in the spring to establish foraging trails. They hang on to antennae and legs, but seem to cause no serious injuries other than tie down their opponents. Once a hunting territory is formed, conflicts cease and workers from different nests may even tolerate each other.

 




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