There are about 11,000 species of ants in the world, but because they prefer warm environments only 50 species are in the UK. Here are the 6 most common ants found in the United Kingdom.
Common UK species
Lasius niger (Common Black Garden Ant)
Perhaps the best known ant to the people of England is Lasius niger, the common black garden ant, it certainly is known by our gardeners and household owners due to its tendency to enter houses. It tends to nest under pavements, in soil, along the edges of lawns, in fact almost anywhere.
Lasius niger is a very quick, robust and prolific ant, using formic acid and its jaws as a means of attack/defence. Colonies can grow up to a size of 15,000 workers, though about 4,000 to 7,000 is perhaps the average. They eat insects, nectar, and even the bodies of their own dead or ants from other colonies. They are also very fond of sugary substances.
Lasius flavus (Yellow Meadow Ant)
Another common ant found in gardens is Lasius flavus, the yellow meadow ant. These ants build small mounds in our lawns and are often mistaken for red ants due to their yellow-orange colour, yet they are no more harmful than their common black cousins. It is the most skilled nest builder found in the UK and can also be found in fields and meadows where they build much larger mounds.
Lasius flavus tend to forage below ground and therefore are not often seen except perhaps when its nest is disturbed, or during the annual mating flights. They tend to forage underground, feeding on small insects and mites that stray into their tunnels.
Formica rufa (Red Wood Ant)
Another common British ant are those belonging to the species Formica, also known as the’Wood Ant’. Many of these species build huge mounds from pine needles and other woodland litter on the edge of forest clearings or pathways, and can number more than 100,000 members per colony. These ants are large, aggressive, and attack by biting and spraying formic acid very effectively if disturbed.
The largest ant in the UK is Formica sanguinea and is a slave-raider. It raids colonies of other Formica species, such as Formica fusca and steals their brood, taking them back to their own nest where they raise the hatching workers as their own. Surprisingly these ants generally do not kill the workers of the nests they raid unless the defending workers try to stop the invader from taking what it wants. Formica rufa are polygynous and can have hundreds of egg laying queens in one nest.
There are seven species of the Myrmica family found in this country. These ants tend to be a deep red in colour and can deliver a relatively painful sting.
The most common of the seven species is Myrmica ruginodis which can be found throughout Britain and live in small colonies with between 100-300 members, but can have many egg laying queens in one colony.
Myrmica rubra are aggressive and seem to be more happier attacking than running away.
Tetramorium caespitum is a small black stinging ant. They are typically found along the coasts of Southern and Western England.
Tetramorium caespitum can have nests containing up to 30,000+ ants, but the average is perhaps around 10,000.
Another wood ant species, though black, and very much more timid than it’s red cousins. They prefer to nest under rotting logs and are found from the Midlands down to Southern England.
Formica fusca have populations of usually less than 1,000 and though they can be polygynous, they do not normally have very many queens in each colony. Formica fusca also have extremely good eyesight but tend to be very timid, often running away rather than fighting.
Ants live in colonies in a nest. During cool winter months ants are dormant and sleep in the nest, as the weather warms up they become active and leave the nest searching for food.
Who is in the nest?
Queen Ant: Each nest must have a Queen Ant to survive. The Queen Ant is much bigger than both the Worker Ants and the Male Ants. Her job is lay as many Eggs as the Worker Ants can manage. Queen Ants have a long life and live for about 10 to 15 years.
Worker Ants: The majority of ants in the colony are Worker Ants. Worker Ants are females but they cannot lay eggs. As the name suggests Worker Ants do all the work around the nest. They look after the other ants, eggs and larvae, as well as keep the nest tidy and build new extensions as required. Worker Ants live for about 5 years.
Male Ants: During the summer the Queen Ant lays special eggs that do not hatch into Worker Ants but into Male Ants. At this time she also lays new Queen eggs. Their job is to mate with a new Queen. After which they die. Male Ants have a relatively short life and live for only a few months.
Eggs: New eggs are laid regularly by the Queen Ant.
Larvae and Pupae: There is usually as many of these as there are eggs. Refer to the life cycle diagram below for more details on larvae and pupae.
How a new nest begins
In the summer you may see swarms of flying ants about. These are winged fertile adults, both male and female. This mass exodus from the nest is triggered by warm humid weather. After mating the males die and the pregnant females will become the new Queen Ants. They leave their original nest in search of suitable sites in which to establish a new nest.
The Queen Ant lays a few eggs in soft soil which she rears herself. These are her first Worker Ants and will help run the nest once mature.
Worker ant lifecycle
The Queen Ant lays eggs.
After a few days the eggs hatch into larvae. The larvae are fed by the Worker Ants.
After about 8 days the larvae spins a cocoon around itself. Once in the cocoon it is called a pupa.
3 weeks later young Ants hatch from the cocoons. They are helped out by the Worker Ants. These Ants spend their life gathering food and keeping the nest tidy. Worker Ants live for about 5 years.