Country diary: a nest busy with housekeeping ants


Hamsterley Forest, County Durham: A new generation is hatching. This ant metropolis will be home to at least 100,000 by midsummer

Had I stood this close to the wood ants’ nest on one of last spring’s warm days, some aggressive defenders would already be climbing my trousers and biting me. Their domed nest, thatched with Sitka spruce needles, stretches for over six feet down the bank beside the forest trail. Had this been a hot summer afternoon, the seething crowd of workers on its peak would resemble boiling black volcanic lava, trickling down the slope as they set out on foraging expeditions.

But this morning – cold and wet again – just a few score occupants are scattered over its surface, busy with housekeeping. A chance to have a good look at the astonishing instinctive social organisation of these predatory ants, introduced to control conifer insect pests.

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