Jun 292015

antsA few days ago Alan contacted me and asked whether I would dissect an owl pellet for him. Great – thanks Alan! He had found it on the foot platform of a wooden stile at the RSPB reserve at Northward Hill. However from his description I began to doubt that it was an owl pellet. Did it smell fairly awful? No – well it was not a fox dropping then. When he brought it to show me I could see that it did not contain any mammal hairs – so it was not a pellet from a barn owl,  short-eared owl or tawny owl and it was also too small for any of these or long-eared owl. It was about the size that I have seen produced by kestrel or little owl. And since it contained what looked like soil I decided it might be a little owl pellet – little owls often feed on earthworms. So I put the pellet into a dish of water and waited for it to break up. By the time that Alan had left we were none the wiser. All we had was a dish of bits of soil and not much else. Eventually Sally started to get a bit annoyed and I had to move the dish from the dinner table. So I moved it to my “workroom” and looked at the sample under a microscope. I was really amazed by what I could see. Lots of bits of the exoskeleton of ants. Sally’s photograph shows some of the head capsules (the dark round bits). Look closely and you can even see some of their jaws with serrated edges (it was easier to see this with the microscope). The other bits and pieces are body or limb parts. Slightly reddish – must be meadow ants. And what eats lots and lots of meadow ants? Green woodpecker! Nice find Alan!


 Posted by on 29 June 2015 at 11:17 pm