The ants are back- following the tragic demise of the UK’s biggest leaf cutter ant colony in St Albans’ Butterfly World earlier this year, a new colony will be unveiled straight from the rainforests of Trinidad.
Just in time for the summer holidays, from Monday, July 14 visitors will be able to watch the tropical creatures set about building a new home for their queen.
To welcome the leafcutter ants to Butterfly World’s Ant World visitors are invited to an exhibition with free face painting on Monday from 12noon to 1pm .
Last December, in a freak accident, ants from the previous colony chewed through an electrical cable to their display tank. The electric shock waves passed through the labyrinth-like chambers of the colony and killed the queen, which led to the death of more than a million ants in the following months.
To find a new colony, Butterfly World commissioned expert Andrew Stephenson from Zoologica Exhibito to search the rainforests of Trinidad for a new queen. Andrew works closely with the local communities and pays the farmers not to kill the ant colonies so he can collect them before crop planting season when they otherwise would have been exterminated as pests.
Andrew said: “As you can imagine it is not always easy. We spend days hunting for the queen through huge underground chambers, we then extract the ‘fungus garden’ that will provide their food and shelter for the journey before transporting around 10,000 ants back on the plane.
“And there are the occupational hazards - their powerful jaws tear our hands to pieces, leaving them dripping with blood.”
Louise Hawkins, ecologist at Butterfly World added: “We were so saddened by the loss of the colony.
“In the four years they were here, they were one of our most popular exhibits, even though they were always getting into mischief and have escaped more than once! We are now so pleased to welcome these ants into their new home.
“Once they are settled we will be encouraging them to use a new rope system so our visitors will be able to watch them up close as they cut and leaves back to their nest.
“We hope that within 18 months they will be back to being the largest colony of leafcutter ants in the country, providing a fascinating learning experience for thousands of visitors and school children every year.”