The blue ant is a wasp with a terrible sting | Nature Notes | The Courier


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The attractive ant-like insect pictured is a female wingless wasp. Larger than an average bull ant, she is 20 to 25 millimetres long, and is an impressive bright and glistening metallic turquoise from head to tail. Some have more of a green tone – especially on the head and thorax – but are similarly glossy. She is a solitary insect, and is easily mistaken for an ant as she roams around on the ground. A raised abdomen is another feature distinguishing her from large ants. Much of her time is actually spent underground, from where she is sometimes unearthed. The male looks like many other native wasps. He is smaller – about 15mm – blacker and non-glossy, with six white marks on his abdomen. His antennae are black rather than red, and he has black veins in his wings. Despite his smaller size, and her large size, he carries her in the air while mating takes place. Being a true wasp, the blue ant has a sting that she uses to paralyse her prey of beetle grubs, mole crickets and other insects. The sharp, burning sting is also used on would-be predators, including humans. Its effect is described by one Ballarat man as “the most painful of all local insect stings”. Added to this, the sting is followed by a strong burning itch for a few days. These are not aggressive insects, however. When not seeking prey for their young, they feed on nectar from flowers. The grubs and crickets are paralysed by the sting, but they remain alive. The wasp lays an egg on the insect, and the young wasp feeds on the insect as it grows. These wasps are mainly found in natural areas, but often remain on bushland edges if the ground is not over-disturbed. The blue ant and her mate are classified with the flower-wasps. Their scientific name is Diamma bicolor. There are many species of flower-wasps, most of them smaller than this one. Many of them have wingless females. The white-winged chough is a local bushbird that builds a large mud nest similar to that of a mudlark or magpie-lark. Although a new nest is normally built each year, some nests are used a few times, with 20 to 30 millimetres of fresh mud, plus new lining, added each time. This accounts for some quite tall nests found from time to time. Nests are quite heavy, with taller ones more so, and likely to topple if built too high. Choughs have been known to puncture disused nests at the base, allowing rain to seep through without damaging the mud walls. Do you know what bird this is? I saw four of them at Wattle Flat. Smaller than a wattlebird and bigger than a sparrow. Mostly black, maybe some blue in the wings, and white tip on the tail. They were very acrobatic, catching insects in the air. H.M., Wattle Flat. Your birds are dusky woodswallows. We have supplied another photo here. They are attractive and appealing small birds, catching most of their insect prey in the air. They are migrants, arriving here in September and departing in March or April. Sometimes they are in pairs, at other times in small groups. Woodswallows are some of the few small birds that soar and glide in flight. They often make a few quick flaps, followed by a glide. Sometimes they rise quite high after insects, but most of their food is collected up to about twice treetop level.

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