Wood ants

In which I admire some busy wood ants in the New Forest

…we stopped to look at a huge ants’ nest on the side of the track.

Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, published 1934

You may remember that, when I posted about a walk round Godshill Wood at the back end of May, I mentioned the wood ants’ birch tree.

A Southern Wood Ant climbing a birch tree in Godshill Wood, New Forest. The wood ants climb the tree in search of the honeydew produced by aphids feeding on the birch sap. The ants encourage the aphids to produce more honeydew by ‘tickling’ them with their antennae; in return they help defend the aphids against predation. The Woodland Trust’s website has more information on these fascinating creatures.

I’m away this week, so this is going to be a short post, but I thought I’d revisit the tree, and the ants, via my keyboard at least. This was prompted by finding that Joan Begbie refers in Walking in the New Forest to a large ants’ nest that she, Bill and Mr Bundy found in Holmsley Inclosure. They didn’t seem too impressed.

The creatures themselves, great copper-coloured horrors, were swarming over it [the nest] in such numbers that there arose from the heap a noise like a simmering kettle, or light rain on dry leaves. They made My Bundy quite nervous, and even Bill refrained from investigating the moving mound, standing at a respectful distance with wrinkled forehead, ears cocked and a puzzled expression in his eyes.

Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest

I love that description, though I’m not sure I’d call the wood ants ‘horrors’. I think they are rather wonderful. Bill and Mr Bundy did well to keep away, though, as the territorial ants will spray formic acid at all invaders, dogs included.

Anyway, I found a little video I made of the Godshill wood ants last year. The birdsong rather drowns out their activity, but if you listen hard, you can just about hear the ants’ clickings and cracklings.

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