Acid-spitting ants saved from extinction

The narrow-headed ant is England’s rarest. They are identifiable by a deep notch at the back of their heads. They live on the verge of the A38 trunk road near Chudleigh Knighton and on an adjoining small nature reserve run by the Devon Wildlife Trust. They fire jets of acid at predators.

Formica exsecta: narrow-headed ant
Formica exsecta: narrow-headed ant. Photo: John Walters

The Times reported on October 18, 2018 that this rare species was on the verge of extinction. Today, in the same newspaper, it is reported that Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, a charity dedicated to conservation to protect insects, bugs and invertebrates, has run a scheme to protect 200 nests of these ants while 30 more have been constructed on nearby sites.

This species of ant used to be common across southern Britain. I don’t have any more information hence this very short article. I will add a little bit more information about the narrow-headed ant, scientific name Formica exsecta.

They were once found on heathland across southern England and are now limited to Scotland and Devon. This rare ant constructs thatched nests in open areas on the edges of scrub. They forage for aphid honeydew on nearby plants. They are up to 10 mm in length and the queens can be up to 12 mm in length. The best time to see them is between May to October.

The ants’ nests are orientated towards the sun. Colonies number around 1,000 individuals. They also prey upon and scavenge many different types of invertebrates. The males are winged and they fly with the queens travelling up to 120 metres. A colony can have several nests and multiple queens. Queens can live on average for 27 years.

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