Exactly 27 years ago, in April 1988 to be exact, a young nature enthusiasts by the name of Kelvin Lim (now with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum), came across a Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) picking up kerengga ants and placing them under its wings. The bird did a curious dance each time it did this, probably reacting to the bites of the ants.
Kelvin asked around. No one could provide an explanation on this curious behavior, not even veteran birdwatchers. He had to wait 17 years before he got his explanation.
This was when the Bird Ecology Study Group was formed, started a website on bird behavior and posted an account on anting LINK. Apparently birdwatchers from the west had all along been encountering this phenomenon where certain species of birds use ants to rid their feathers of ectoparasites.
Once anting was explained, birdwatchers began to send in accounts of their encounters. I began to compile local information on anting and sent it to the Nature Watch, flagship of the Nature Society (Singapore) for publication in 2005. For some reasons or other the editors kept the manuscript for three years. Can it be because of objections by the society’s birdwatchers?
Once I realised that the manuscript encountered censorship, I resent it to the National University of Singapore’s online publication, Nature in Singapore. Within a day the manuscript was reviewed and the editor informed me that it will soon be published LINK. Anyone interested in a PDF of the paper, it can be downloaded HERE.
Subsequent to the paper’s publication, Kwong Wai Chong sent in an account illustrated with crisp images of anting LINK. We also obtained permission from Levina de Ruijter of Amsterdam to post her images of a crow lying on top of an ants’ nest to allow the ants to swarm all over its feathers LINK (above, one of Levina’s images). Then Lena Chow encountered anting by a Common Flameback (Dinopium javanense) using tree sap LINK.
And ten years after our first post on anting, Dr Leong Tzi Ming successfully made a video of anting by White-crested Laughingthrushes (Garrulax leucolophus) LINK.
But anting does not involve only ants and tree sap alone. Beetles, millipedes, bugs, snails, caterpillars and even discarded cigarette butts have been reportedly used. It is up to local birdwatchers and photographers to be vigilant in the field and document these…
And to top it all, in 2015 Kwong Wai Chong succeeded in photographing a Javan Myna indulging in anting using a millipede.