Excavating under pavements and herding aphids in flowerbeds, the Lasius niger, or 'black garden ant', is not shy about its presence. As the most abundant ant species in urbanized areas, practically everyone living in western Europe will have seen them.
However, that's not the case for the species likely to come second place when it comes to conquering human-claimed lands: the Lasius flavus. That's because this ant, as its name 'yellow meadow ant' indicates, likes to live under our fields of grass, rarely seeing the light of day (unless you just happen to be digging in your lawn). Underground, they mostly herd aphids specialized in sapping the roots of grasses, too timid to prey upon insects much larger than themselves.
We missed our chance for this year to find a queen (probably, it's hard to monitor their nests for nuptial flight preparations) but I always considered the Lasius flavus is an interesting species because how different its behaviour is to the Lasius niger even though they look almost exactly alike (aside from the colour obviously). So... instead of waiting for next year, we ordered a queen with some brood and named her Goldilocks.
|Shap eyes required: Yellow-ish legs and sheen to its gaster, |
instead of the Lasius niger more brown-ish colour.
When we got her she was still in a little catching-tube with some moistened kitchen paper at the bottom. Our queen was huddled over her offspring, tucked in a little corner. Tiny, slightly translucent and all hiding under mommy, it was hard to determine the number of workers. First we counted 3, but that increased to at least 9 in only a few days.
These ants take timidness to another level though. Offer them a tiny dead fruitfly? All workers hide among the brood until queen Goldilocks finally picks it up and stashes it somewhere out of sight. Or when some paper soaked in honeydew is put in the tube, the tiny workers never get closer to it than the queen's skirts so to speak. The queen did drink from it though and the next days the larvae started showing golden tummies.
|"Mommy, what is that?! I'm scared!"|
A bit frustrating, because we wanted to get them to move out of the tube and into a gypsum formicarium, easier to keep clean moistened. But the workers hardly ever explored and never past the paper towel. In fact, when we removed the sticker at the top of the tube, we noticed that there was a considerable clump of brood stuck there on the other side. It must have tumbled there during transport and none of the colony went looking for it afterwards. So we put the tube on it's side in the outworld of a gypsum formicarium and moved the clump of brood closer with a scrap of paper.
|Behind sticker #1: tiny larvae and eggs.|
|"Move out because our house turned on its side? Nope!"|
And while the next morning the brood was added to the big pile queen Goldilocks was fussing over, the colony itself hadn't moved a hair. It was going to take quite some doing in order to get these timid ants over their agoraphobia. Read in the next update the extreme measures we took.