Breeding Red-Barbed Ants
The red-barbed ant can be found throughout Europe but here in the UK it only survives on the Isles of Scilly and at one site on the UK mainland in Surrey, Chobham Common National Nature Reserve, making it a priority Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species. They declined primarily due to habitat loss and the spread of the slave making ants. Thanks to conservation breeding by ZSL and partners, these amazing insects are in a much stronger position.
As part of a 3 year long Red-barbed Ant Project run by ZSL, Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT), the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust (IOSWT) and Natural England (NE) ZSL bred a captive population of these ants with a view to releasing them. This project was funded by a grant of nearly £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
In 2008, 25 red-barbed ant queens and their attendant workers were released on Chobham Common in a bid to save one of the UK's most endangered species from extinction. Under the care of Surrey Wildlife Trust, Chobham Common is now a stronghold for the ant colonies, which were reared in a specially-designed quarantine facility at ZSL London Zoo.
After the initial reintroduction, annual rearing and releasing of new colonies of from ZSL London Zoo was planned to maintain this fledgeling wild population. The ants themselves as well as the habitat they need also benefit many other rare and exciting animals such as endangered insects such as the heath tiger beetle, birds and reptiles.
A key component of this conservation work was preparing selected sites for release in Chobham Common, where the new red-barbed ant colonies could flourish. Relatively high densities of the underground colonies can exist happily together.
Harmless to human beings, the ants have distinctive reproductive behaviour. During courtship the young winged females climb to the top of a blade of grass to attract the attention of males by emitting their scent. The queens can live more than 10 years and mate only once in their lifetime, storing sperm inside their bodies to fertilize eggs for the rest of their life.
ZSL has a long and successful history of carrying out captive breeding and reintroduction of endangered species. We are already partners in two successful captive breeding projects for rare British insects - the barberry carpet moth and the British field cricket. In addition, ZSL bred the wartbiter cricket for reintroduction into the wild so successfully that captive breeding for the species is no longer required. ZSL also carries out health surveillance for all Natural England’s Species Recovery Programmes.
In partnership with: