Britain has around 50 species of ant, of which 4 are commonly known as wood ants. Tilgate Park is home to some large wood ant nests, they are generally located on the edges of the coniferous woodland, so they are exposed to the sun for at least part of the day.
The large domed nests can reach over 1m in height and are constructed from pine needles and other plant matter; they are designed to keep the the colony within the nest at a constant temperature, so the southern side of the mound is slightly flat allowing it to absorb more of the sun’s rays to heat the nest up and there are vents the ants can open if the nest is getting too hot. A single colony can number over 100,000 ants; nests are protected ferociously against much larger animals, as part of their defence these ants are able to squirt formic acid.
The ants feed on other invertebrates and so play a vital role in controlling the numbers of ‘pest’ species in a woodland. Another important source of food is honeydew, a sugary liquid, they collect from aphids; in return they protect the aphids from predators.