Large bulldog ants hunt alone

By Roger Thomas
Updated November 2 2012 - 4:15pm, first published May 5 2011 - 5:40am
Large bulldog ants hunt alone
Large bulldog ants hunt alone
A bulldog ant larvae spin silk cocoons for protection during pupation. Picture: David McClenaghan, CSIRO.
A bulldog ant larvae spin silk cocoons for protection during pupation. Picture: David McClenaghan, CSIRO.
These two large slugs were found on the doorstep of a Wendouree home last week.
These two large slugs were found on the doorstep of a Wendouree home last week.

OUR largest ants are bulldog ants. These giants can measure 25 millimetres or more long. The head of one of these is pictured here.Our local bulldog ants are black or almost so. At lower altitudes and slightly milder climates – and perhaps sandier soils – can be found a redder one, much the same size.Bulldog ants, like their smaller relatives the jumper ants or "jackjumpers", can sting painfully. The sting is rather like that of a bee or European wasp.Some people are seriously affected by their poison, needing hospitalisation if stung.Others experience a very sharp burning pain for a minute or so, then perhaps a few days of itchiness around the bite.Bulldog ants construct small mounds, smaller and more difficult to see than the large unvegetated, stone-covered mounds of meat ants.Unlike the meat ants, bulldogs are solitary hunters, not travelling along well-defined pathways, but rather working alone, through the leaves, twigs and other bush litter.Their rather steep-sided mounds are usually 20 or more centimetres tall, camouflaged somewhat with small sticks and other material. They are creatures of forests and woodland, rather than of grassland, paddocks and open country. They appear to need trees overhead.They are usually rather shy insects, but will readily turn to face an intruder – ready for action - if cornered, or when their mound is damaged.When they bite, their formidable nippers grab the skin, giving support for injection of the tail’s painful poison. FLAME ROBINS ARRIVE BEFORE FROSTSEACH autumn our district is visited by flame robins. Small numbers occur in many places, quite often the same places they have visited for many years.Their numbers appear to be dwindling year by year, but fortunately we remain able to see a few of them each autumn and winter.They breed in thickly forested country, such as the Grampians, Mt Cole, the Otways and through much of eastern Victoria.It has sometimes been stated that the first flame robins of the season arrive with the first frosts. While this might sometimes be the case, it has certainly not applied this year, because much of the Ballarat district has yet to experience a true frost, and the robins have been with us for more than a month.Anyone claiming to have seen flame robins needs to be careful with identification, because flame robins are similar to scarlet robins and both occur in the Ballarat district. We won’t go into the identification features today, but a good bird book should be consulted to confirm identification of these two attractive “robin redbreasts”.So far this season I have been pleased to see flame robins at Mt Rowan, Invermay, Meredith, Stockyard Hill and Clunes.At Clunes I had the pleasure of seeing red-capped robin, scarlet robin and flame robin within a hundred metres of each other a couple of weeks ago.TALK ABOUT FUNGIMELBOURNE fungi expert Geoff Lay will visit Ballarat on Wednesday, May 11 to address the monthly meeting of the Australian Plants Society at the Robert Clark Centre at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.Geoff is a professional botanist who specialises in fungi, and is an acknowledged expert on toadstools and mushrooms of south-eastern Australia.Next Thursday morning, after the evening meeting, Geoff will participate in a short outing to nearby bushland to look at and help identify the various fungi found.Anyone with an interest in local toadstools and mushrooms is welcome to attend both the meeting and the outing. For more details phone 5343 2245.PARDALOTE AT LAKELAST year’s total of 128 bird species at Lake Wendouree did not include the striated pardalote.One was seen there last Sunday, calling from an almost bare poplar tree on the shoreline near Carlton Street.This was rather a surprise, given that this species was not reported right through 2010. Considerable effort was made last year to record all birds likely to be present.The striated pardalote is an uncommon and irregular visitor to Lake Wendouree, but it was a bird we expected to see at some time during 2010.In autumn and winter our district sometimes hosts striated pardalotes from Tasmania. Despite their tiny size (11 cm), they manage to cross Bass Strait twice a year. Our mainland birds and the Tasmanian visitors differ mostly in the colour of a tiny spot on the edge of the wing. It is red in our birds and yellow in the Tasmanians.Last weekend’s Lake Wendouree bird was too high in the poplar tree to see this feature.It is at this time of the year that we could expect to see some Tasmanian pardalotes. Sometimes we find them in winter in the box – ironbark forests of central Victoria, north of the Great Divide. Q & AI was surprised at the size of these two large slugs found on the front step of my Wendouree home last Sunday evening. What is the maximum length to which they would grow? The key pictured is 95 mm long.J.N., Wendouree.These introduced leopard slugs can grow up to a maximum of about 200 mm, but they are seldom found that long. Anything over 120 or 130 mm is rare.Send queries to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353, or email to rthomas@vic.australis.com.au, or fax 5333 1651. Photos are welcome.

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