We were very excited to read recently about the proposed experiment at York University which hopes to attach small radio receivers (well they wouldn’t be big would they!) to the back of wood ants to find our more about their secret lives. I wonder if they got the idea from us – the “Borstal Heath Ant Group (BHAG). Locals joshingly call us the Old BHAGS – they do tease! So how come a prestigious university could be inspired by a humble wildlife group in the remotest corner of the West Midlands? That I cannot answer but the York project bears a striking resemblance to an experiment we carried out last year.
Many a long winter’s evenings has flown by as old BHAGs mused on the life of Lasius niger, or the common garden ant. We were very keen to know about their lives under the patio – it was time to find out for sure! Our very own geeky wildlife lover “Techy Terry” set about the task and spent hours devising a unique method of attaching a GoPro camera to the back of Lasius niger.
Terry personally trained one ant he called Annie to come back to his house after a day carrying the camera. Not easy as you can imagine – ants are very single-minded creatures – but Terry has winning ways with many animals. (Teaching Beefy Beryl’s ginger pussy to leap through a ring of fire was one of his many triumphs. Although it was more black than ginger by the end of a training afternoon).
You can imagine how excited we all were when the great experiment began for real. At dawn Terry whistled down the garden path and within seconds Annie appeared. If an ant can pant with expectation then I am sure that is what Annie was doing! Terry gently placed the GoPro on Annie’s back with a special “ant mount”and we all strewed rose petals on the path towards the garden gate. “God speed dear friend!” we shouted and Annie set off.
It was a surprise to see that Annie didn’t disappear down a crack but headed resolutely off to scout for new food supplies for her colony – common behaviour for Lasius niger in the early summer months when the Queen is madly laying eggs. How exciting! we thought, where can she be going and what new scientific information will be revealed? We sat back to wait.
Later that afternoon we gathered in Terry’s kitchen ready to hook the GoPro to the computer. We were almost overcome with emotion. Annie did re-appear, a little late, and proceeded to collapse on the living room floor and expire from exhaustion. The mood of delight dissipated immediately. What on earth had happened to our dear friend? There was only one way to find out.
Terry flicked Annie into the bin and we attached the camera – the sight that met our eyes was – well – shocking. Annie had innocently found her way into Marg Crutchley’s kitchen in search of vitals and inadvertently recorded on film her entertaining a visitor. Modesty and discretion prohibit us from showing the footage – suffice to say for someone who has had two hip replacements she is remarkably flexible. Some of the BHAGs think her companion is Dodgy Dave, our new vicar, but the image is indistinct and blurred– and surely not!
The most terrifying part however is when Marg suddenly spies Annie and my goodness does that woman have a temper! Howling with fury she proceeds to chase the poor beast around the kitchen – how that little ant managed to race out of the kitchen door and into the garden before Marg’s large Doc Martin boot splattered her into oblivion we’ll never know. No wonder she died of stress.
So ended the Borstal Heath Ant Group’s first attempt at ant tracking. We plan to re-do the experiment next year when we have fitted a large, ant-defying barrier into Marg Crutchley’s kitchen. Terry is already training a new recruit – Adam – because we are adamant that this time all will be well. (Get it adamant Adam ant – gosh there’s life in the old BHAGs yet!). If any of the York University group would like to contact us to find out about Terry’s marvellous techniques we’d be delighted to share our experiences (but not the video!)