Anting in weavers

Anting is when birds apply ants to their plumage. Birds select ants in the subfamily Formicinae, which produce formic acid when disturbed. Formic acid is toxic to insects and to many micro-organisms, so anting seems to be part of feather care. Other forms of plumage care are bathing and preening, and even dust-bathing or sun-bathing.

There are 2 types of anting. In passive anting a bird perches on the ground, and lets ants crawl through its plumage. In active anting a bird picks up ants in the bill and “wipes” them through parts of its plumage.

Anting appears to be rare in Africa. For instance, Jack Skead noticed anting only once in 45 years of ornithological field work (the anting bird was a Cape Weaver).

Anting has been recorded in 20 weaver species (Table below), but most of these records are from captive weavers (in particular, the London Zoo). Five weaver species have been recorded as anting in the wild (species illustrated below).

Anting has been recorded in the wild for Village, Cape, Holub’s Golden Weavers, Southern Red Bishop, and Red-billed Quelea


Ant species or genus that were used by weavers in the wild are all i the subfamily Formicinae:

Table – weaver species in which anting has been recorded.

Species Latin
Thick-billed Weaver Amblyospiza albifrons
Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver Bubalornis niger
Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea
Red-headed Quelea Quelea erythrops
Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis
Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer
Northern Red Bishop Euplectes franciscanus
Red-collared Widowbird Euplectes ardens
Black-winged Bishop Euplectes hordeaceus
Southern Red Bishop Euplectes orix
Yellow-mantled Widowbird Euplectes macroura
Jackson’s Widowbird Euplectes jacksoni
Long-tailed Widowbird Euplectes progne
Black-necked Weaver Ploceus nigricollis
Holub’s Golden Weaver Ploceus xanthops
Rüppell’s Weaver Ploceus galbula
Chestnut Weaver Ploceus rubiginosus
Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis
Vieillot’s Black Weaver Ploceus nigerrimus
Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus
Dieter is a qualified Bird Ringer and trainer, registered bird guide, and Weaver expert. Dieter is able to act as a bird guide for day trips in Cape Town, and is able to customise birds tours in South Africa and beyond.