posted in: Feathers-maintenance, Videography | 2

“On the morning of 12th November 2014, I was taking a stroll along forest edge when I encountered a small flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes (Garrulax leucolophus). Some were approaching the base of a lamp post and expressed interest in an aggregation of Weaver Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) on the grass and concrete (above).

“Then without much hesitation, the birds picked up the ants one at a time and applied them onto their feathers repeatedly (images 2 & 3). This proceeded for approximately five minutes, until most of the ants had dispersed.

“Video clips of this anting behaviour may be previewed here:

“Since the earlier days of Ornithology, the topic of anting has always been an intriguing one and discussed at varying extents (e.g., Simmons, 1957). In Singapore, this was only addressed in earnest relatively recently (Wee, 2008). Since then, various contributors have succeeded in obtaining photographic records of this behaviour for various species, including:

 Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus): LINK.

 Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis): LINK.

 Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis): LINK.

 Vinous-breasted Starling (Acridotheres burmannicus): LINK.

“As we spend more time in the field, armed with cameras in hand, may we be presented with more opportunities to document such rare behaviour and help add to a growing list of bird species that will deliberately inflict themselves with tiny bites and squirts of formic acid!”

Dr. Leong Tzi Ming
4th April 2015

Simmons, K. E. L., 1957. A review of the anting-behaviour of Passerine birds. British Birds, 50(10): 401–424, Pls. 57–62.
2. Wee, Y. C., 2008. Anting in Singapore birds. Nature in Singapore, 1: 23–25.

2 Responses

  1. Gretchen

    I’m interested that the ants are (usually?) not damaged by the bird picking it up with its beak, but are still able to move about and bite.

    I wondered too if the birds ate any of the ants.

  2. YC

    Sometimes after the ants have done their job, the bird will eat them up.

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