Narrow-headed Ant Project

The Narrow-headed Ant (Formica exsecta) is a very rare wood ant. In the UK, it is restricted to the Scottish Highlands and South Devon. In England it was once found across the south of the country from the New Forest to Cornwall, but by 2015 it was reduced to just one site in South Devon.

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Quick Facts:

  • Name of Project: Narrow-headed Ant(Species Recovery Project)
  • Duration of Project: Summer 2023 – March 2026
  • Location of Project: South Devon
  • Species benefiting from Project: Narrow-headed Ant (Formica exsecta)
  • Project funded by:  Natural England

Between 2017 and 2020 Buglife worked on the Narrow-headed Ant in England as part of the Back from the Brink project. Work through this project, undertaken in partnership with Devon Wildlife Trust, helped us to vastly improve our understanding of this ant’s complicated lifecycle. We were also able to triple the number of English sites by undertaking nest translocations at two nearby sites.

Narrow-headed Ants create distinctive thatched nests amongst grass tussocks at the edges of scrub patches. Nests can be found in open areas where they benefit from the warmth of the sun, and each is topped with grass or heather fragments. Narrow-headed Ant colonies are quite small, with approximately 1,000 individuals in each. They are surprisingly dynamic, with nests and smaller satellite nests appearing and disappearing, or migrating throughout the year. To add more complexity, some nests appear to not even have queens.

Narrow-headed Ant (Formica exsecta) © Gus Jones Narrow-headed Ant (Formica exsecta) © Gus Jones

What will the project do?

We are now continuing the work which was started by Back from the Brink, and with the support of our dedicated local volunteers are undertaking further translocations and monitoring in South Devon to continue to support these fragile populations.

Queen ants are captured on their nuptial flight as they first emerge from their nests in the summer and are mated with males in captivity, before being released to establish new nests. These nuptial flights are different to the flying ant swarms you might find in your garden, with only a few dozen winged queens and males emerging at a time over a couple of hours each morning for about 7-10 days in July.

Narrow-headed Ant (Formica exsecta) nest © BFTB Narrow-headed Ant (Formica exsecta) nest © BFTB

Over the next few years we hope to further increase the numbers of nests at two recently colonised sites, helping to safeguard the Narrow-headed Ant populations in England for the future.

How can you support the project?

If you are interested in volunteering with our Narrow-headed Ant project in South Devon, please email [email protected]

The Narrow-headed Ant (Species Recovery Project) is generously funded by Natural England and is being carried out in partnership with Devon Wildlife Trust

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