Of the estimated 11,006 or so described species (Sleigh, 2003) of ant living throughout the world today, Britain has no more than 50. Ants are sun loving creatures and our cooler climate is not suited to many of them, however, the species we have here are certainly worthy of study. Many British ants can only be found in Western and Southern England, with Dorset and Hampshire being the most rich in species.
Below are some of the more common ants found in England.
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. It is a very quick, robust and prolific ant,
using formic acid and its jaws as a means of attack/defence. It's colonies can grow up to a size of 15,000 workers, though about 4000 to 7000 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.
They are perhaps one of the easiest ants to keep in captivity due to the fact that they are harmless and possess no sting. They are a very interesting and active 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, Lasius niger.
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.
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 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. It is interesting to note that there are two sub-species of Myrmica ruginodis; one that has queens which are visibly larger than the workers, and the other has queens which are almost the same size as the worker. Myrmica rubra is polygynous with larger than worker queens. They are aggressive and seem to be happier attacking than running away.