We’ve been leaving our grapes on the vine until we we’re ready to eat them. By the amount of hornets who started appearing in the last few days, big mistake. Obviously lured initially by the very ripe and alcohol-smelly prickly pear fruit, they have then started making quite a mess of the grapes. I thought, probably like most, that in view of its sheer size a hornet was far more dangerous than a wasp. However, I was reassured to read that a sting from a European hornet is no more dangerous than a wasp sting and they are also less aggressive than wasps. European hornets are actually protected by law in Germany, carrying a stiff fine of up to 50,000 euros for transgressors.
Fascinated, I read on, “when approached, European hornets can actually be seen to slowly crawl backwards and eventually flee rather than attack..”, but strangely enough neither of us were willing to put this to the test being content with merely snipping off the few remaining bunches for a feast later on, and thoroughly burying the decimated, squashed remains. There must be a nest nearby, but didn’t really want to think about that too much. Well, I believe they look ferocious and sound sinister – what do you reckon? I would rather they droned off to someone else’s land.
One insect we do have a lot of respect for is the little ant. We must have millions on our land, of so many sizes and types and it’s a rather humbling experience to watch them tirelessly going about their business, day in day out, carrying unbelievable loads without ever seeming to give up!
It doesn’t look like it but there is actually a wood ant underneath a fly which is underneath a dead horsefly. I just happened to see a lifeless horsefly rise vertically up this large stone and couldn’t quite work out how it was connected to a very dead fly which was also moving. But the ant was moving them both and I watched in amazement as he dragged it all the way up and over the top.
With so many ants around the place, I suppose the main drawback would be that wherever you decide to sit and observe them, or just sit and relax on one of the numerous viewing platforms we’ve created, in a short space of time they start crawling all over you, especially irritating when you’ve got a cohort of wood ants surreptitiously exploring your nether regions. I did have a real life ‘ants in my pants’ scenario recently which proved extremely uncomfortable for days afterwards. Thank god for tea tree oil. Still, they were only doing their job, and a good job they do too, like clearing away the old grasses and eating aphids.
After the grasses have seeded in late April/May, that’s when they really get to work marching to their nest carrying their precious seed bounty. Millions of little ant tracks produce a tell-tale long, straight line in the earth which can stretch for many metres – at one end is the entrance hole and at the other end is a fast-growing, very neat mound of empty hulls!
It’s staggering to see just what they attempt to carry, and also the inter-relationship between the different species – whether to attack or totally ignore. Joe put some blue cheese out on the step and watched as, in a very short space of time, three types of ant come along to investigate. The huge (by comparison) wood ants weren’t always kings of the jungle; if there were sufficient of the tiny ants they would swarm all over a big bruiser and it recoiled with every sting.
The same for a couple of wasps that came to have a nibble. All three types of ant became aggressive and the poor wasps, which also felt each sting, moved away pretty sharpish without retaliating. Obviously hungry, they just waited for the right moments to snatch and grab the odd tasty morsel.
It’s always sad to see an ant nest that has been uncovered by a very heavy downpour, like this one from our first heavy rains of the autumn last week. With all the entrances suddenly laid bare, the inmates would have decamped very quickly to another home. Also, in the cooler weather the nests are targeted by hungry wild boar and very quickly reduced to nothingness. Poor things.
Dung (scarab) beetles usually work in pairs and try to gain entry to the ant inner sanctum, and many’s the time we will see a hapless pair being set upon by loads of the tinier ants. The size differential is enormous, and the beetles are well protected by hard body armour. But we haven’t actually witnessed a beetle making it all the way inside, and eventually a determined pace is reduced to a standstill as their legs are draped in ants who sting while holding on for dear life. This particular dung beetle has found some dog poo and is going about his or her legitimate business, but a wood ant is already going on the offensive.
It does make you wonder whether, in years to come, the whole of our land will eventually be undermined by ants and their antics…