Scottish wood ant

There are several species of wood ant living in Scotland, however the Scottish wood ant is confined to the Highlands. Ant nests, built of twigs and leaf litter, can be up to a metre high and contain several queens and over 100,000 workers.

Wood ants live in large colonies and individual ants have special roles. Workers forage away from the nest on the ground seeking food and building materials. Food can be other insects, carrion or plant material. Soldier ants, which are bigger, defend the colony from attack, biting with their mandibles and spraying formic acid from their abdomens. The queen continually lays eggs.  Other workers tend the growing eggs and larvae within the nest colony.

During the late summer some of these larvae develop into adult queens and males, both sexes have wings. In warm periods after rain these winged ants fly from the nest. Flying queens and males from different colonies mate, after this the male dies. However, the female lands and looses her wings after which she seeks her own new nest site, burrowing into the soft ground in a warm sunny spot.

Colonies are visibly active during warmer weather when ground temperatures allow these large ants to seek food. Between March to October in dry and warm conditions ants can be seen on and around nests. During cold periods of the winter the colony remains inactive underground, protected from frost.

Wood ants are more common in woodlands and forest areas containing Scots pine trees. At a distance colonies are recognisable as piles of brown pine needles and contain other plant material. They are found on the south and west edges of woodlands or in large sunny clearings. When in sunshine, the top of a colony may appear to be dark brown, this is because there are hundreds of active worker and soldier ants walking around on top.

The Scottish wood ant is found in limited habitats in remnant forest areas and is a sub-species of the common wood ant.

A wood ant colony is rather like an iceberg floating at sea - most of it is underwater and unseen. In fact a wood ant colony can extend over a metre underground and be more than a metre and half across.