We investigated the wood ants of forest fragments composing the Sixtusbossen at Poperinge-
Vleteren (Western Flanders, Belgium).
Two large fragments, one with and one without wood ants, and two small forest fragments, also
one with and one without wood ants (occurring), were sampled by means of pitfall traps during
nine weeks in late summer and autumn 2005 with 36 traps in the large woodlands and 9 in the
The workers of the wood ants of the Sixtusbossen are identified as Formica rufa or as the hybrid
F. rufa X polyctena on the basis of the morphological criteria proposed by Seifert. Further
morphological and molecular genetic work is in progress to get a clearer picture of the taxa of
the Formica rufa complex and their distribution in our regions.
The social organisation of the wood ants of the Sixtusbossen is as the one usually observed in
the hybrid morph. Nest mounds mostly occur along the woodland edges. They vary in general
appearance and are adapted to local conditions. Nests are polygynous (several or many queens
per nest). New nests are formed by budding off from existing ones. Nuptial flights are short
ranged and only done by males. Pairing was observed in the immediate vicinity of and on the
Serviformica species were not found in the Sixtusbossen or nearby forests. Where such ant
species occur their nests are often temporally parasitized and finally taken over by a fertilised
wood ant queen after her nuptial flight. The absence of Serviformica ants implies that in our
forest fragments new nest formation can only be accomplished through soil surface dispersal,
hampering the (re-)colonisation of fragments where wood ants do not occur or have
Monitoring and mapping of the nest mounds during the past ten years has revealed that in the
Canadabos, one of the larger fragments, the number of nests augmented from 29 in 1996 to 72
in 2006. After forest clearing during 2003 the number of nests grew from 30 to 52 in 2005.
Because of tree felling during the winter 2005-2006 new nest mounds were settled well inside
two forest fragments.
Radiation heat from the sun appears to be very important for the establishment and continued
occupation of nest mounds. Newly settled nests are significantly more exposed to sun radiation
from the southeast than abandoned ones.
Not the species composition but rather the structure of the vegetation is important for the
occurrence of wood ant nests. Especially a too closed tree crown layer is unfavourable.
Workers bringing in prey items were caught and their prey was identified. Especially insect
larvae, woodlice and parts of grasshopper are carried to the nest. There is important variation in
the incoming prey during the seasons and the day cycle. Wood ants appear to be polyphagous
predators, hence having a stabilising role in forest ecosystem functioning.
No clear differences were found between the supply of prey in woodlots occupied and the supply
in those unoccupied by wood ants. Apart from arthropod prey, during the good season workers
continually feed on the sugar rich droplets excreted by aphids feeding on trees and shrubs.
In 2005 and 2006 we found several specimens of the beetle Clytra quadripunctata, of which the
larva develops within nests of wood ants. This confirms the status of wood ants as a flag
The limited dispersal power of the wood ant populations of the Sixtusbossen means that their
success will depend on an expansion of the habitat surface that can be colonised (by running)
over the ground. To achieve this, forest fragments should be connected by well-conceived