Saturday, 28 September 2013

Wood Ants (Formica Rufa) in Orlestone Forest

'Southern Wood Ant' Formica Rufa in Orlestone Forest
 Stood talking by a roadside pull-in at Orlestone forest with friends Bernard and Andil and lamenting the lack of woodland birds, we were distracted by the tiniest of movements close to the road-side. There, twigs, leaves, dried grasses were seemingly moving with a life of their own. A closer look showed it was the work of Wood Ants toing and froing. We had accidentally found their colony, a little 'Eureka' moment for me as it's has taken me years to find Wood ants in Orlestone forest and this was the first time.

By contrast at the Blean Wood complex, Canterbury, it's comparatively easy to find Wood Ants especially where the woods have been coppiced for the Heath Fritillary Butterfly. Over here in Orlestone forest, whenever I've actively looked for Wood Ants I've drawn a blank.

Looking at this colony, the site seems unnaturally located close to the road and there are several reasons for this: firstly, the colony is sited where the road is intersected by a woodland ride and combined with light from above the roadside, plenty of sunlight is present all year round - a big requirement for Wood Ants; secondly, the Ants have chosen the site due to a lucky accident by us humans. The site is located on the top of a raised bank of mud and stone built to stop illegal entrance to the forest by off-roaders. The loose mixture of stone and earth, has allowed the Ants to build and burrow easily into the bank far easier than the woodland floor.

Colony site is built on a partially over-grown raised bank.
The raised bank has another benefit for the colony too – protection from flooding.  Much of the surrounding woodland floor was flooded during the winter and spring months of 2012/13.  Perhaps this is also another reason why I haven't found any colonies in the past?

Our Orlestone Forest Wood Ants will need some protection in the future. If for any reason the Forestry Commision were to rebuild the bank, the colony would be destroyed.  I'd be very interested to know if anyone else knows of Wood Ants in Orlestone Forest and what their true status is.

'Southern Wood Ants' Formica Rufa

1 comment:

Clare Gillatt said...

Very interesting, love the photos!