It was the 11th April 2007. It was evening, round about 6.30 pm. It was beginning to get dark, but not yet. Morten Strange was walking past this patch of growth in the Singapore Botanic Gardens where there are many mature palms, just after the Botanic Gardens Shop.
As he walked, he noticed seven Javan Mynas (Acridotheres javanicus) foraging along the undergrowth. Suddenly one myna picked up an ant in its bill and swiped it over its plumage. It then picked up another and another and another. Each time it picked an ant, it swiped it over the feathers, but whether it ate the ant or released it afterwards, Morten was not able to say. It was rather dark, the ant was small and the action was rapid.
The action of the first myna seemed to trigger the six others to do the same. Suddenly there was a frantic mass anting by all the birds, each picking up an ant, swiping it over its feathers and repeating the action a few times.
According to Morten, even if he had a camera with him, he would not be able to document this mass anting. The action was so rapid and the ants so small. How would he be able to capture this on film or the memory card?
For those not familiar with anting, this is a method of cleaning the feathers of ectoparasites with the help of ants. The formic acid released by the ants help to do the job.
Anting was explained to the birding community in October 2005 when the Bird Ecology Study Group posted an account observed by Kelvin Lim some 17 years ago. Since then, there have been a number of reports by birders (1 and 2.
There are always plenty of Javan Mynas at the Singapore Botanic Gardens (below). Apparently it is easy to witness these birds indulging in anting. However, one must be alert to it as the action is sudden and will take one by surprise.
(Images by YC)
NOTE: Accounts of anting posted between October 2005 and August 2008 have now been written up and published in the 2008 issue of the on-line journal, Nature in Singapore (Vol. 1, pp. 23-25). A PDF file of Anting in Singapore birds is available HERE.