Photographer Tony Austin knew he had gotten lucky when a murder of crows landed near him on a recent nature walk. But then one of the birds started acting strangely. Austin started shooting — and he was astounded later, when he enlarged his photos: The crow had large black ants all over its body.
“I noticed there were like little bumps all over this bird that was flopping around,” Austin says. “And sure enough, it was covered in ants.”
Even stranger, the crow had seemed to purposefully put ants on itself. Austin had been confused; now he was mystified. Looking for help to solve his mystery, he posted a photo of the crow on a Facebook group for wildlife photographers in his home area of Victoria, British Columbia.
Caught in the act of “anting”
In response to Austin’s post, an answer soon came: The crow was merely “anting” — spreading ants on its feathers and wings. The practice has long been documented, but it’s not entirely understood.
In this cropped version of Austin’s photograph, ants are clearly visible on a crow he encountered in Canada’s Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary.Tony Austin
A leading theory is that it’s all about cleanliness.