Red wood-ants at The Kymin
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Most of us don't even notice when a common little ant stumbles across our feet, frantically battling to find his way home. Here at the Kymin, we're lucky enough to have a whole colony of red wood-ants - the largest ants in Britain. Their impressive Queens measure about 12mm long.
The other two 'castes' found in the wood ant colony, workers and males, are slightly smaller.
The Queendom of ants
Red wood-ant queens can live for over fifteen years; the workers only live for a year or so and the males are very short lived, dying after their mating flight in the spring.
The queen is the only ant that lays eggs that are reared to adulthood. The males do not work as their sole purpose is to mate with the queen.
The workers are all female and as they do not reproduce as they are not fully developed. However, they do occasionally lay eggs which are used as food. As the name implies, they do all the work in the colony which involves maintaining the nest and tending to the queen and her brood.
The ants are very clever. They farm aphids, those minuscule green insects commonly known as greenfly. Ants 'milk' the aphids, gently stroking them to get them to release droplets of honeydew, a food that is rich in sugars, acids, salts and vitamins.
To the aphids this is their waste product as they have to suck a lot of tree sap to get the protein they require. In return for the honeydew the ants protect their precious sugar source from predators and competing sap sucking insects.
Not bad for a little critter.