Ants are common insects that we see walking on the ground almost daily and don’t give a second thought to. Did you know though, that some ants are restricted to life on the ground? Some types of ants even have wings, one such species of ant is the carpenter ant. If you’ve ever wondered why flying ants suddenly appear, then you’re in luck because that’s what we’re going to discuss in this article.
Why flying ants suddenly appear
When a colony of flying ants has matured, typically in the Spring, you will see the mature ants emerge to create new colonies. When this happens, there will be large swarms of flying ants or carpenter ants in the air. Depending on the size of the colony, the swarming may last for an extended period time.
The main types of flying ants that you might see include winged pavement ants, flying ants, and carpenter ants. The carpenter ant is probably one of the most common flying ants as well as the one most often confused with termites.
Do All Ants Grow Wings?
Ants have an interesting life cycle and a society that is mainly driven by female ants. The ants you see in and around your home or trudging in the garden are female ants. Taking a closer look at the life cycle of an ant will allow us to understand which ants grow wings and why we can say with certainty that the ant in your garden is female.
A Queen ant begins her colony by burrowing into the ground or some other suitable environment. The ant queen lays her first clutch of eggs and feeds the larvae herself until they mature into pupae and eventually emerge as female worker ants.
During this time, she does not eat for many weeks until the first batch of worker ants are old enough to begin foraging for food to bring back to feed the queen ant. No male ants are produced at this time.
The queen continues laying eggs, and now the worker ants feed the larvae and pupae, and the queen ant’s sole purpose is to continue laying eggs.
When the colony is big enough, and the weather conditions are suitable, the queen begins to produce virgin queens, sometimes known as princesses. At the same time, unfertilized eggs pupate into male ants known as drones. Both drones and princesses have wings and are known as alates.
Alates are triggered by weather patterns and emerge from their burrows or nests in massive swarms that take to the skies. Many ants in the same area will swarm from different nests. This is Nature’s method of ensuring that genetic diversity is preserved among ants. The phenomenon is known as the nuptial flight.
This opportunity allows the virgin queens to mate with as many drones or males as possible. It is the only time that the queen will mate with male ants.
The queen stores the male sperm in her body for the rest of her life and uses it to fertilize eggs that she continues to lay. The amazing fact is that some ant queens can live between fifteen to twenty-eight years!
Once the queen has mated with as many males as possible, her wings fall off, or she chews them off, and she finds a suitable place to begin a new ant colony. The males only live another day or two, and then they die.
Can You Tell The Difference Between Male And Female Flying Ants?
Female flying ants are almost always bigger than males. If you see larger flying ants, those are probably the females. The males are smaller and less noticeable. The flying females are also larger because they are queen ants which are larger than regular worker ants. Mating takes place during flight, and once mating has occurred, the queen ant drops to the ground.
In army ants, there is a variation to the typical ant alate pattern. Army ant alates are always males, and they fly out to find wingless virgin queens with which to mate.
What Weather Conditions Cause Flying Ants To Swarm?
Flying ants usually swarm in warm weather in late spring or early summer. The exact time is dependent on current weather conditions. In some areas, the flying ants only emerge after the first rains of the season.
Flying Ants Swarm At One Time For Protection
Birds and bats make the most of the swarms of flying ants, and many ants are lost to predation. There is safety in numbers, and Nature has designed the system so that even though some ants are lost to predators, there are so many that the species will survive.
Swarms of flying ants occur at the right time of the year for insectivorous birds to gain extra energy for reproduction. The birds may also be feeding their growing nestlings, and the flying ants provide a rich source of protein for the babies.
Are Flying Ants Dangerous?
Flying ants are not dangerous and are not interested in biting you. The sole purpose of the swarm or nuptial flight is to find a mate for reproduction. The ant swarms may be irritating if you are engaged in some outdoor activity.
Flying ants occur as part of the normal ant life cycle. The purpose of the flight is reproduction to perpetuate the species. If you happen to come across a cloud of flying ants,
I would encourage you to stop what you are doing, sit back and watch the flying ants. After all, this is not an everyday occurrence. It will give you an understanding of how amazing these little creatures are, and you will gain an appreciation for the amazing natural world we live in.