ZSL to mount "operation red ant"
Monday 29 January 2007
ZSL has been awarded almost £50,000 to save a rare species of ant from imminent extinction in England.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded ZSL £49,900 to head up a project to save the red-barbed ant (Formica rufibarbis), which is on the brink of extinction in mainland Britain. The ant is one of our most endangered native species, restricted to only one site in Surrey and several in the Isles of Scilly. The single colony left in Surrey is all one sex, making it merely a matter of time before it dies out. The ant’s rapid decline in Britain has been mainly caused by loss of suitable heathland habitat, but large scale restoration projects have recreated enough suitable habitat for this species to recover after reintroduction.
The red barbed ant, so named because of its red dorsal hairs, exhibits unusual and incredible behaviour. During courtship female winged ants (young queens) will climb to the top of a blade of grass or tall plant stem to attract the attention of males by emitting a scent. The ants also posses an amazing sense of sight and will proceed to their nest entrance in a dead straight line even if obstacles are in their path. Foraging red-barbed ants will also challenge other and species for food, gripping on and tussling until it can decamp with the prey.
ZSL, working with ant experts and other conservation organisations including Natural England and two Wildlife Trusts, will take a small number of red-barbed ants into captivity at London Zoo where they will be bred for release back into the wild. The long term aim is to reintroduce at least 40 captive-reared nests into the wild each year. In this way it is hoped to supplement the wild population at Chobham Common National Nature Reserve in Surrey, and establish breeding populations at Wentworth Nature Reserve, Lightwater Country Park and Sunningdale Golf Course (all in Surrey). Volunteers will be recruited to assist with survey, monitoring and habitat management work once the breeding colonies are in place.
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.
ZSL’s Native Species Conservation Programme Manager Emily Brennan said: “We are delighted to have received this money from the Heritage Lottery Fund to work toward saving red-barbed ants from extinction. It is an incredible species that makes a valuable contribution towards our natural ecosystems and their reintroduction to managed habitats in areas where they have already died out will hopefully help to secure their long-term future.”