might be thrilled and delighted by this Web page, depending upon the level of
your passion for anthills. Also, you might not be, but your life may be the poorer.
Western Switzerland was atwitter in early May 2005 at the news that a BBC television
film crew was here to film a documentary about our lovely anthills. Right here
in the Jura mountains, in the Geneva-Lausanne area, we have (according to the
excited headlines in La Côte, our local
newspaper) the highest-density population of wood ant colonies in all of Europe.
naturally we trotted out to view some on our own again and renew our enthusiasm
for the little critters, which La Côte
insists are the cute little fourmis DES bois, or
ants of the woods, and not the reviled fourmis DU
bois, or termites.
to La Côte, the BBC film crew were sporting
a specially-made camera lens that cost a quarter of a million pounds, which ought
to have let them invade an awful lot of ant privacy, if that's what they had in
mind. The really big celebrity news was that David Attenborough would be hosting the programme, though he was not actually to be tromping around
in the wet forest himself.
of where the BBC team chose to film, the best place for anthills is in the forest
between the Perroude du Vaud and the Perroude de Marchissy just west of the Chemin
des Crêtes long-distance hiking path. [There are alleged to be 1,200 anthills
in the 0.7 square kilometres around the Col du Marchairuz.]
here we are (that's the royal we) on the 7th of May 2005, making our own little
documentary. Look at the greenery on that one!
viewers will note that, in the winter and spring (before they burst into life
again), every anthill has a fist-size hole dug out of it. We don't know why. On
rare occasions we find two holes, but overwhelmingly it is only one, and none
has none. We have speculated that they are the traces of somebody trying to dig
in and eat all the sleeping ants with a long curly tongue or something, but our
present theory is that, with the onset of winter, some little forest mammal-guy
burrows into each easily burrowed nest for his hibernation, and once he's in,
the other little forest guys leave him alone and go on to the next one.
frequently given thought to mapping all these anthills with GPS coordinates, so
that we could run statistics on them and find them again when necessary, except
in times of discretionary war when the US military turns off the GPS global positioning
system. But then we thought: why would anyone want to map anthills, or find them
again? They're pretty "fungible" or interchangeable, after all, except
to their residents.
we've noticed is worth mentioning, however -- the fourmis des bois do dearly love
the sites of recent "forest management", i.e., tree-whacking, and you'll
notice forestry debris in nearly all of these pictures.
forest walk, going northeast more or less parallel to the Chemin des Crêtes,
is extremely beautiful, by the way, in May as above, and in winter in the snow,
but in late summer it's all snarled up with undergrowth and just not worth the
are we about the fourmis des bois that, when they tumble out of the anthill-innards
again in the late spring, we don't even know if they're the same ones that retreated
underground with the first snowfall last autumn or entirely new ones. David Attenborough
will probably explain all that to us once he's got the TV show all sorted out. (Update: Ant expert Daniel Cherix says that they're hibernating and get waked up with springtime comes).
We did notice once, however, at an anthill still surrounded by late-spring snow
on the ridge overlooking the Pré de St Livres, that the top of the 1-meter
anthill had thawed out and thousands of ants were dashing wildly back and forth
and in and out of little holes, and solitary scouts were scrambling down to the
snow, then turning round to scurry back up with the bad news ("maybe next
week!"). And they didn't look like newborns.
[Another update: Mr Attenborough came back, right here, for a new BBC Nature World documentary 'Attenborough and the Empire of the Ants 2017-2018', with amazing new camera technologies. "David Attenborough is in the Swiss Jura Mountains to discover the secrets of a giant. Beneath his feet lies a vast network of tunnels and chambers, home to a huge empire of ants. It is believed to be one of the largest animal societies in the world, where over a billion ants from rival colonies live in peace. Their harmonious existence breaks many of the rules for both ants and evolution, and raises some important questions. Through winter, spring and into summer, David turns detective to find the answers."]
don't know what their anthills are made of -- spruce needles, obviously, and maybe
dirt and chopped-up leaves. But, but . . . have they been digested first? There
are some questions that we don't really want to know the answers to.
here we are at the Crêt de la Neuve. In just a moment we'll bushwhack back
by a slightly different way and see if we can find any more photogenic piles of
other species' housing arrangements.
deck on Crêt de la Neuve had been without
its flag and flagpole in recent times, but we are pleased to observe that
in May 2005 they are back again.
anthills playing hide-and-seek with us amid the forestry debris.
holes in this one, uncommon but not unique.
last anthill photograph for today, 7 May 2005, but a week or so later . . .
parade of anthills, near the Chalet à Roch Dessus, 16 May 2005
testing them for consistency, back in November 2004.
Near Perroude du Vaud, 16 May 2004
ant country -- foresty, wet, tolkieny and dark, overgrown with all kinds of decaying
things, 16 May 2005.
T. Peck next to one of your bigger Swiss anthills in June 2003, this one down
in the forest along the front of Mont Pélé. These things are said
to grow to a maximum of 1 to 1.5 metres, but that big boy is taller than Marlowe.
important scientific question is: how fast do these things grow in size over the
years? Let's find out. Come back here in ten years'
time, and we'll do some before-and-afters, or instruct our beneficiaries to follow
up on this issue into the indefinite future.
A digression for termites
More chronological anthills
A lovely anthill industriously built all around the tree branches, which are still sticking out of it, near Grand Cunay, June 2008
A December anthill in the Jura, with a big hole in it (12 December 2009)
Near Mont Sâla, 18 April 2010: the scouts are out and scurrying all over, but no masses of workers yet.
See also the article in Swisster.ch, "Ant metropolis wonder dominates Jura hiking spot", 25 March 2010, which leads off with the first photo on this page. [Sorry, that Swisster.ch website seems to be gone now (2016).]
An anthill with tentacles, along the Chemin des Crêtes near Crêt de la Neuve, 12 May 2010
A three-story anthill, hanging down off the cliffside like the Malibu Bluffs in a steep-sided limestone combe near the Petit Pré de Rolle, 15 May 2010.
A Bactrian anthill (two-humped) near Crêt de la Neuve, 16 May 2010
Ants staking their territorial claims, including in my socks
This huge anthill has taken a real beating, but the boys are hard at work getting it sorted out again. 13 June, near Grand Cunay.
Who could have been sadistic and soulless enough to have done that?
Well-camouflaged, in a thunderstorm, near La Bassine farm, 3 July 2010
GAME ON! Near the Chemin des Illanches path, Fourth of July 2010
Picked the bones clean. 11 July 2010 near Le Vermeilley
A baby anthill, Les Echadex, 17 July 2010
A three-holer, near the Cabane Rochefort, 21 December 2016
Many more anthills in the Jura, 6 May 2018