Ants working away to make Mire Loch a hot spot for biodiversity

The mild weather has resulted in nice specimens of the Crimson Waxcap.
The mild weather has resulted in nice specimens of the Crimson Waxcap.

St Abbs Head is famous for its breeding sea birds and is a very attractive place in summer with the wealth of colourful flowers which grow in great abundance, but there is also a wealth of other wildlife living there and all working away to make it a hot spot for biodiversity.

On the grassy slopes above the Mire Loch are hundreds of round mounds a foot or more high. They have been created by and are home for the Yellow Meadow Ant.

These small ants work away at moving the soil around and building the soil into the mounds where they have their nests with a queen and all her brood and busy workers.

Those ants seem to keep the surrounding grasses small and compact and on the ant hills themselves there is a lot of open soil amongst the tiny grasses providing an opportunity for other small plants such as thyme to grow and thrive. If it was not for the action of the ants the vegetation would be much rougher and the fine plants would struggle to compete and would loose out and disappear.

There are many species of fungi which require short turf and are never seen in rough vegetation but the conditions provided around the ant hills is an ideal environment for them to grow.

Several sorts of small puffballs can be seen on a winter walk growing on and around the ant hills. These fungi have a rounded ball full of spores and when there is heavy rain the drops of water hitting the ball causes the spores to shoot out into the air. Also, if touched by passing animals the spores will be ejected in great clouds.

A much larger puffball is the Giant Puffball which is not necessarily associated with the ant hills, but is obvious at St Abbs in winter.

This one grows to the size of a football and in winter gets detached from the ground, it is very light and gets blown around in the wind like a ‘tumble weed’ as it bounces along every time it hits the ground a cloud of dust like spores are released, several were seen on a recent visit.

Waxcaps are a group of small grassland fungi which appear in late summer and autumn.

Most come in bright colours such as red, pink and yellow, they usually have a cap which is waxy to the touch and they are good indicators of ancient, undisturbed meadows.

As many as 20 species can be found at the very best sites and those places must be preserved. If the waxcaps are doing so well then all the other sorts of grassland wildlife will also be prospering.

In January we had some very mild weather and some nice specimens of the Crimson Waxcap, Hygrocybe punicea were in good fresh condition at the base of some ant hills. This species has a bright crimson top to the cap and the stem and gills are in varying shades of yellow, pink and red as in the illustration.