1. Wildlife photographer John Brown (l), from Leafield in Oxfordshire, spent two years filming honeypot ants (Myrmecocystus mimicus) in the Arizonan desert for the BBC programme Natural World: Empire of the Desert Ants
In this issue you will find pictures of honey ants - amazing creatures living in the desert and delicious dessert for Australian Aborigines. We can take a look inside the anthill through painstaking and difficult work of British researchers, who have spent two years to create a documentary about the lives of these unique creatures.
2. There are five sorts of honey ants, and they all live in the deserts. Honey ants can be found in the deserts of North America, Africa and Australia.
At certain times of the year food for the honeypot ants is plentiful but for the rest of the year there is very little. To ensure they have adequate supplies they force-feed certain ants which swell up and become living larders for the rest of the colony.
3. Mr Brown said: “They are kind of grotesque. They just dangle from the ceiling of the colony and don’t really do much other than regurgitate food and get force-fed so it’s a weird existence.”
4. The honeypot ant colonies can “live” for 25 to 30 years so Mr Brown had to compress time to explain the pivotal moments in its lifecycle. He also had to find a way to film the ants in their colonies which can extend 12 ft (3.6m) down into earth which is as “solid as concrete.”
To film them he caught some females that had just mated and set them up in a fake colony in his studio. He also had a wild nest in the field where he filmed the above ground behaviour of the ants.
6. The canyon where the film was shot was a hotspot for Mexican drug runners but that did not put Mr Brown off. He said: “It’s as close to paradise as I can think of – its harsh and intimidating but I’m always trying to think of schemes to get me back there to make another film there.” Mr Brown was in the field for eight months over the two years to coincide with key parts of the year. He said his wife Julie had to put up with him calling to explain he was extending his trip because the ants had not mated or certain events had not occurred as predicted. “Your life is controlled by the weather and a colony of ants,” he added.
5. Mr Brown said: “There would be weeks that went by were I would hardly get the camera out of the box. I’d just be sitting there, melting in 40 degree heat watching these ants trying to figure out what they were doing.”