May 2018 - Garden Ants

They're invading our conservatory again. Black garden ants. They dash across the floor in a haphazard way, in their never-ending search for food. They like the nectar rich flowers of the two orange trees. 

Black garden ants and the yellow meadow ants are both found in our garden. The black ants build nests under paving and walls and are the only ants regularly seen in the house, the yellow ants build their nests in the middle of the lawn, creating small mounds of soil. Both species are harmless, do not have a sting, and do not spray formic acid. Their jaws, which are their main defence, are not strong enough to break human skin, although they can give a 'nip' if they are defending their nest.

Black garden ants are farmers of green and black flies (aphids). They love the sugary honeydew which the aphids produce and will protect their 'herd' from predators such as ladybirds. They will carry the aphids to new pastures as necessary and may take some underground during the winter (possibly using them as a meat source). They are also partial to discarded human food waste, rotting fruit and insects. In the case of the latter it is sometimes a communal effort of several ants to immobilise an insect. As they hunt for food, they communicate with each other by releasing body chemicals (pheromones).

There are three types of ant in a colony.

The queens and kings are the only winged ants of the colony. After mating, a queen will discard her wings as they have no other purpose than for the  nuptial flight. The young black ant queen will raise the first generation of workers on her own, usually in a sealed hole in the ground and since she cannot forage during this time, she will feed her larvae with a fluid created by the breakdown of her own muscles. She becomes weak, losing half her body weight. The newly hatched workers have their first task of building up their queen's strength again. After several years of building up the colony the queen will lay eggs for a further generation of queen and king ants.

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