Thursday, September 20, 2007

Anting: A "Birdbath" of a Different Kind

A friend related a story of how he observed a hawk laying flat on the ground, as if dead. It was laying atop a red ant nest, and its whole body was covered with ants... The hawk rose up, as from the dead, walked around a bit, shook its feathers free of ants and flew off!

A short while later, other birds came to sunbathe in the ant bed. This behavior, called "anting" has been observed in over 250 bird species. The ants do not seem to sting the birds, but quickly carry off bothersome mites and lice that infest birds.

Some birds are not passive bathers, but pick up the ants with their beak and rub them over their feathers. Blue jays, starlings, tanagers, weavers and other species have been known to do this.

The ants secrete formic acid, a chemical that has insecticidal, miticidal, fungicidal and bactericidal properties.

Birds and red fire ants...who'da thunk it?

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