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).
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.
|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|