National Trust Purbeck Wildlife


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Secrets of the Wood Ant

Walking in areas where heathland merges into woodland, you can’t fail to notice large piles of pine needles and other leaf litter. These are the nests of wood ants, Formica rufa (‘formica’ because they can spray formic acid and ‘rufa’ because of their red bodies).
You will also see trails of worker ants following the same pathways as they patrol the territory, collecting a wide variety of prey that they carry back to the nest. A recent study estimated that 60,000 items were delivered in one day!
The workers also tend aphids for the sugary ‘honeydew’ that they produce and they have been observed in the upper canopy of a 30-metre tall Scots pine trees to get it.
Wood ants are best avoided as they are aggressive, having jaws that can nip and an acid defence. But despite this, they are eaten by the green woodpeckers that thrive on the heath.
wood ant

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