Yellow meadow ants on Denbies Hillside

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The yellow meadow ant is not particular on where it builds its nest. It is often found in damp meadows, on woodland edges, grassy ditches, on the banks of streams or in dry fields, vineyards and gardens. It only avoids dark woods.

Anthill

Above the underground nest (which can be 40cm deep) is an earthy mound (anthill). This is covered in vegetation and is around 30cm high. Some mounds have even been found up to 50cm high. The mound is closed off, there are no connecting paths leading to its centre.

Lifecycle

The male and female ants swarm in July and August. They create holes in the earth mound, climb out and make their mating flight. The female then sheds her wings and finds a new nest by herself. She makes a chamber in the ground, stays there throughout the winter and then begins to lay her eggs in the spring.

On the Hillside

Yellow meadow ants thrive on Denbies Hillside and their anthills can be seen scattered throughout our open chalk grassland.

The hills present a problem for mowers and the mounds are destroyed by mowing. This is why no mowing is carried out on Denbies Hillside SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Grazing cattle act as our mowers; they are a very efficient and sensitive management tool.

Our ants have a special relationship with our chalkhill blue butterflies. They’re partial to the substances secreted by the butterfly’s caterpillars. The worker ants bury the larvae and unintentionally protect it from predators. This is a good example of symbiosis in nature.

Yellow meadow ant facts

  • Because they live mainly underground their eye sight is very weak. They hunt and move by smell.
  • Their main food is honeydew, a sugar-rich sticky liquid, which is secreted by aphids living on the grass roots. Occasionally they take animal food-insects.
  • The workers are pale yellow, the females are brown and the males are brownish black.
  • They are not aggressive. If their nests are attacked they normally withdraw into the safety of anthill’s underground chambers. If they do have to defend themselves they bite the victim’s skin and squirt a little formic acid from their abdomen into the wound.
  • They are small and a fairly common species of subterranean ant. They are widespread throughout Europe.