This is part of the "New Naturalist" series of books on the fauna and flora of Britain from some years ago. Brian concentrates on the ants of the British Isles with only a bit of information on non-native ants for comparison. But since ants, even from widely different environments, share much of the same structure and many of the same behaviors, there is much to learn from this highly detailed book.
Details include distribution maps of 46 species (e.g., Myrmica rubra, Leptothorax acervorum, Lasius niger, Formica rufa, etc.) over the British Isles. There are 16 black and white glossy plates showing ants in action, and two color plates showing ants from various species for comparison. The tenth and concluding chapter on "Culture Methods" advises the collector or entomologist on how to design and set up an artificial nest for observation.
The text is meant for the general reader, but I think the value of this book today is in the information it has for the professional, revealing methods and ideas then current. No doubt some of the information and methods have been superceded; indeed some of the information may be of only historical interest. Still the book remains topical since the behavior of ants hasn't changed, and is still valuable because (I suspect) some of the methods for research described here might be new to today's myrmecologists because such methods have been forgotten.
Ants are seen from the perspective of their structure (there are several detailed drawings showing glands, organs, ducts and other body parts), how they feed, how they build and protect their nests, how they take care of their brood, how they fight, etc. Brian's text is easy to read, full of specifics with an emphasis on objectivity without flair.
Some details I found interesting:
I had never heard of "anting" before reading this. Anting is the practice by some birds of standing in a pool of ants and wallowing so that the ants crawl all over them. The idea, according to Brian, is probably to get the ants to squirt formic acid, which is insecticidal, on their feathers, to kill lice and mites.
Because I am particularly interested in Argentine ants (Linepithema humile, formerly, Iridomyrmex humilis) which are epidemic here in California, I was intrigued to learn that England has its own indoor ant, Monomorium pharaonis (Pharaoh's Ant), which behaves quite a bit like the Argentine ant. It eats meat as well as sweets and likes to live within the structures of buildings. Most significantly perhaps is the fact that like Argentine ants, Monomorium exists in supercolonies with many queens that can bud off to form new nests while never developing "antagonisms or territorial behaviour." (p. 170) This latter trait is what makes the Argentine ant of the southern US and California so successful: since they are all part of one supercolony they never fight among themselves.
Brian describes what usually happens in other species when ants from different colonies meet while foraging: they fight, kill, drag home, and eat. He relates what happens when one species tries to take over the nesting space of another. He describes a large number of predators, parasites, commensals and the like that live on and inside ants, or in or near their nests. Apparently the most important talent to have for invading an ant nest is the ability to mimic or somehow acquire the smell of the ants. If you smell like us, the ants seem to say, you're okay and you can stay unharmed. In fact, some parasites manage to not only eat the host ants' brood, but get fed directly by the ants who seem oblivious to the fact that they are not feeding their own. There is one beetle, Atemeles, that offers ant workers attractive secretions from its abdominal glands. The ants like them so much that they groom and carry the beetles about. Brian reports that Atemeles is so adapted to ant ways that it "spends its winter as an adult in Myrmica nests and its summer in Formica nest where it lays its eggs." (p. 177)
There are apparently no soldier, driver, honeypot or harvester ants in Britain so those sort of ant life styles are not described. Most of the ants that Brian does describe typically milk aphids, and forage for insects and carrion. They will eat other ants and even members of their own colony during times of stress. Some species (e.g., Tetramorium caespitum) collect seeds which are masticated by workers and fed to their grubs. Ants also eat their own eggs; indeed the practice as reported by Brian is so common that it's apparent that eggs often serve as a storage of food for lean times.
This is the kind of book I wish were available covering the ants that I encounter here in California. If anybody knows of a good book on Argentine ants, please let me know. Meanwhile, I think you'll find that this hard-to-find and out-of-print gem is definitely worth reading.