Monday, 21 July 2008

Witness to a birth... sort of

Seven weeks ago (to the day) I found a Lasius queen in a soil claustral cell beneath some moss in a woodland.

I don't make a habit of collecting Lasius queens to rear colonies from - they are two-a-penny in the UK (only slightly more expensive than a-dime-a-dozen at todays exchange rate) and the workers are marvellous escapologists, making them difficult to keep.

However, this queen looked like a Lasius flavus queen, so I thought she might be something more interesting since woodland is not the normal habitat for L. flavus. I collected the queen and the soil of the cell surrounding her and placed everything in a tube.

She had remained in that tube until yesterday, when I decided it was time to investigate why I hadn't seen any activity for about three weeks. Of course, this meant that when I discovered the queen and brood and two callow workers it was too late to get them back in the tube, so I had to find them some alternative accommodation in a plaster nest.

I left them to settle into the plaster nest, checking on them every couple of hours. Then in the early evening I counted not two but three workers, so I decided that I would take them into work today, so that I could keep an eye on them.

I'm glad I did. Not a lot happened until 16:00 when, as I was moving to get a drink, I spotted activity. The queen was licking what was obviously an emerging adult ant. The other workers were also showing an above normal level of excitement (i.e. they were moving, rather than just standing over the brood). The queen continued to lick this fourth worker for about 30 minutes, until she left it, twitching, presumably to harden its cuticle.

This was very exciting for me, as in ten years of studying ants it was something I had never before witnessed. To be fair, I've only been keeping ants for about a year and it's the sort of thing that you need to be in the right place at the right time to see.

Once I got them home, at around about 18:00, there was a fifth ant! They are yellow, so I'm becoming more convinced that they are just the common L. flavus, but they're entertaining me.

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