Wordless Wednesday – Wild Cherry Blossom and Female Wood Ants

Wild Cherry blossom (Prunus avium) and Wood Ants (Formica rufa)

Wild Cherry blossom (Prunus avium) and Wood Ants (Formica rufa) Maulden Woods, Bedfordshire

Wood Ants produce formic acid, which can be sprayed at prey, predators and humans too, long trousers, cycle clips and a hat are needed to get up close. Birds can encourage Wood Ants to spray the acid on their feathers to help control parasites.

34 thoughts on “Wordless Wednesday – Wild Cherry Blossom and Female Wood Ants

  1. that’s interesting; ants are one the the worst pests in my garden; they undermine the roots of plants and then the plant dies almost as bad as moles. they also protect and milk aphids so they are the only pest that I actively try to keep under control.

    • They are actively encouraged in Maulden woods by the Forestry commission as they predate other insects likely to damage the trees. I can understand why you do not want them in your garden Christina and would not like them here either.

      • Me too Christina, I’ve read that they are such efficient predators that in a year, a single colony may predate 10 million insects in a woodland. Although it makes stopping to watch them hazardous, I can see why the Forestry commission are keen to have them!

  2. I like cheery blossom and hope it will give a lot of cheery 😉 I plant spring flowers at the base of fruit trees so that browsers are attracted and in the grass , I let them evolve dandelion flowers

    • I expect the birds take the Cherrys, these were growing wild in a nearby wood. Your underplanting sounds lovely Christiane and Dandelions are wonderful for early bees and other insects. 🙂

  3. Does this explain the odd, red bumps and lumps that erupt on the skin after contact with some ants, when there is no bite apparent? I think we have something similar here in Egypt: in the garden, I am as wary of them as of the mosquitoes. The new area of Cairo where I live appears to have been built over a collection of ants’ nests, and I am convinced the (very badly built) houses and apartment blocks will eventually be undermined by them and return totally to the desert…whence they came.

    • Hi Sylvia, the Wood Ants here are native to Britain, North to Mid Europe, Pyrenees and Siberia. But it does sound as if your Ants have a similar habit to these, there are several images on google of folk with red rashes caused by Ant spray. The nests can be vast, several metres tall in some cases. That does sound worrying about the building, I hope that does not happen for your sake.

    • Hi Sarah, apparently, Rooks, Starlings and Thrushes, have all been seen provoking attack, the birds then spread out their wings and are sprayed with formic acid at close range, which kills off the tics and mites, then bathe afterwards to wash off the dead parasites and acid. Every creature has a role to play!

    • I have read they can spray accurately a distance of 5cm. There are some amazing photos on the net of hundreds spraying in unison. This nearby wood has ideal conditions – sandy, conifers and some heathland and can build huge nests in the pine needles. Although they make us more careful where we linger in the summer months, they do a vital job in the forest ecosystem, so not problematic, just doing their job. 🙂

    • Thanks Judy, I would liked to have studied more closely what the Ants were investigating as there did not seem to be any visible aphids. They climb high into the trees and can drop down, so took a quick photo only!

  4. Beautiful picture!
    They can be very damaging to the plants indeed. Especially if there is a stoned area in the garden (with sand/gravel foundation) is almost impossible to get rid of them; plus that they will enter in the rockery! But is mostly a smaller size, reddish ant that’s mostly seen doing this.

    • I guess too that some bird species would come in and forage for ants disturbing the ground. Not very neat and roots do get moved about but maybe in the wild thats how more plants spread.

    • The wood consists of mixed broadleaf, conifer plantations and now heathland where they have worked to clear areas for the regeneration of local sandy heath wildflowers. The FC have a management plan which includes open space management, retention of Aphid trees, and habitats – they nest in pine needles, sensitive clear felling of trees near nests. So an active conservation as the Wood Ants are extremely important in maintaining woodland ecosystems. I did not phrase my post very well, I should have said actively conserve.

  5. Like Sylvia Ismail, our house seems to have been built over anthills too. For the first few years we lived here they would erupt out of the floor in the living room and the kitchen as well as coming in round the window and door frames – horrible! That doesn’t happen anymore but we still have them all over the garden. They cause problems in all of the plants in pots and tubs and most of the beds have a least one ants nest. However, without them we’d probably have lots of other less desirable insects and we wouldn’t see the green woodpecker quite so much!
    Thank-you for the informative post Julie. I had no idea that the Forestry Commission encouraged wood ants. Much easier, cheaper and greener to use the ants than use chemical insecticide.

    • There are different species of Ants, the Wood Ants have their own unique role and as you say your ground nesting types make a great food source for Green woodpeckers. And how much poorer we would be without a rich tapestry of creatures within our gardens and wider worlds.

  6. The ants certainly seem to like the wild cherry. Ants like wasps are considered pests by most people, the more we learn about them we realise they have an important role in the system. Echoing Chloris your blog is a source of wildlife information.

  7. Have you ever actually been sprayed by one of these ants? I wonder if we have them here – I’ve never seen them in our garden. In the southern USA, however, there are fire ants – very aggressive and with quite a painful bite. The cherry blossoms are beautiful and look entirely benign, fortunately.

  8. very interesting Julie, I am glad you didn’t stay ‘wordless’ 🙂

    when I lived in the south I mostly only saw black ants that always managed to find their way into buildings, occasionally I saw small brown ants out in the countryside, up here I only see brown ants, larger than the ones I used to see down south but they are not big, there are patches of them in different parts of my garden and if the starlings find them the starlings go mad and I’ve actually seen the birds fight over the ants, you have made me think perhaps I should take some photos and do some searching to find out more about these ants,
    really very interesting about the wood ants and all new information to me, many thanks, a lovely photo too, Frances

    • Hi Frances, I came across lots of information on Scottish wood ants on the internet, hopefully there will be just as much on your garden ants. I think you are going to enjoy the wood ant resources though – the tiniest of creatures are really absorbing.

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