Sunday, 7 September 2014

Black Spot and an Ant-elope

I managed to locate Gateshead's first Black Darter of 2014 today at Kibblesworth Brickworks Pools but a poor count of dragons here today, though I think we arrived a bit early, as things were (literally) just warming up as we prepared to leave.
Other dragons on show were a couple of migrant hawkers, c8 common darters, a few emerald damsels and a blue-tailed damsel. None of which I bothered to photograph.

Back to Friday, and the last of our three nests of Black Garden Ants swarmed, a lot later than usual. The winged kings and queens have usually eloped en masse in the nuptial flight by mid-August, gauged by temperature, and two of our three nests did so, but the third nest beside the back door is in shadow most of the time and due to the poor August hadn't yet swarmed, though I've seen them abort on a few occasions while the other nests close by held successful launch parties.

Over the years it's been great entertainment, and can often become a feeding frenzy for the local birds, I've had house sparrows and blackbirds feeding on the ground, robins and blue tits 'fly-catching' from the cherry tree and good numbers of starlings and hirundines feeding in mid-air, plucking the unfortunate ants out of the sky before they had a chance to fulfil their destiny.

On one memorable occasion a passing band of swifts got in on the action, swooping low into the garden to take the ants just after take-off. I stood perfectly still by the corner of the house as swifts brushed past me at breakneck speed, circling around the greenhouse and back in again for more. A great experience to get so close to them and one which probably won't be repeated, though I live in hope.

On Friday the star 'ant-eater' was a jackdaw fly-catching from the house roof opposite, time and again it darted out, snapped up a victim and returned to the roof. Others were mopping them up in mid-air, as were a few starlings.
The ants themselves are rubbish flyers, mainly clambering up to the highest point they can reach before taking the leap of faith, some go straight up, others seem to tread water before making any headway skywards, and some plummet straight back down to earth again, either perishing or dusting themselves off and having another go.

Even at the highest point at the top of the greenhouse, the future queens
were literally clambering on top of each other to gain a bit of
extra height.

The one above was like someone someone making a leap from the high-diving board for the first time, scuttling forward to the edge as if ready to go, but stopping abruptly, changing her mind and scurrying back again. She did this numerous times and I still don't know if she made it in the end.

Numerous others came to a sticky end in the spiders webs, of which there are many, constructed in nooks and crannies of the greenhouse. One individual was right out of luck, she became entangled in a web and there was no escape anyway, but then a wasp attacked her before the spider had a chance to claim its prize, with the result that she was dismembered in the web and eaten in double quick time, leaving only a pair of wings and a head for the spider.

This unfortunate individual flew straight into a web and was
immediately pulled in by the spider in residence.

If it wasn't bad enough flying into a web, this poor sod was
torn apart and devoured by a passing wasp. 

The wasps seem particularly fearsome at this time of year, and another was actually trying to get at spiders which were cowering in their shallow holes, they hold no fear over those stripey bastards.

As always it was a highly entertaining event though they reckon only one in a hundred flying princesses will successfully form a new colony and become queen, a stat at which I'm not surprised, given the carnage I witness each year :-O        


  1. Around our property they have a neurotic woman who rushes out with her numerous containers of ant powder, dusting anything that flies or crawls while stomping about. The missus hates ants with a vengance (i love them) and dispatches them with great enjoyment.......she becomes some sort of she devil.
    We did have a nest in our fireplace years ago when we moved in which i removed after a couple of years when i removed the old back boiler when we upgraded the central heating. Many houses in the street have problems with ants but we havent thanks to the Wild Woman of Wonga.......sorry Wallsend.

  2. Ants are great, I used to keep a formicarium as a lad. The ant-powder brigade make me sick, they think they get rid of the ants with a sprinkle of white stuff but truth is, once they've swarmed you don't see them again til same time next year anyway, all they do is help poison birds, hedgehogs etc which eat the dead ants. Your better half needs a good stiff . . . talking to ;-)