Everything you need to know about flying ants
Different species of flying ant
There are lots of different ant species in the UK but the most well-known is the common black garden ant (Lasius Niger). Many people assume flying ants are a unique species, but actually most species of ants fly during mating season. For this reason when ants take to the skies it is often called their Nuptial Flight.
Conditions such as heat and humidity need to be just right before they fly, which is why you will often see flying ants around the same time each year. There isn’t just one flying ant day, though. Different ant species will fly at different times, and different areas of the country will see flying ants on different days.
In 2009, the semi-final match of the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa had to be stopped because there were so many ants on the pitch that the players couldn’t see!
When do flying ants appear across Europe?
Based on online searches in 2015.
Why flying ants appear
Both male and female ants fly, but the females are all young Queens looking to start a new colony. You can easily tell the two apart, as the Queens are much bigger.
During the flight Queens lead the males on a kiss chase of sorts, to make sure she only mates with the fastest and the fittest. Birds love to eat flying ants, so they swarm in large numbers to reduce their odds of being eaten.
There’s a very low success rate among young Queens. One colony can send out millions of young Queens and, on average, only one will succeed in founding a new colony.
The first thing a queen does after mating is burrow into the ground and create a chamber, in which she will lay her first batch of eggs. This tunnelling activity can help to improve soil quality.
The queen will use the remains of her wings for energy whilst waiting for her eggs to hatch so her new workers can bring her food.
A female will mate with several males during her nuptial flight, but can store the sperm in her abdomen for up to 20 years, meaning she doesn’t have to mate again.
A queen will look after her first batch of eggs herself, but after they have reached adulthood the new worker ants will look after the eggs without the queen’s help.
The amount of food available determines whether new queens will be created. If there is little food, all larvae will get the same amount of nourishment and only worker ants will be created. If there is lots of food to go around, some larvae will be given more than others and will become young queens.
Young queens are sometimes called ‘princess ants’ and will eventually leave the colony to breed and start the cycle again.
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