For one day every summer, people up and down the UK, put down their BBQ tongs, fold away the picnic blankets and retreat indoors, as millions of flying ants come out of hiding. This 24-hour period sees the air suddenly become thick with the usually wingless pests, which bombard both windscreens and the faces of anyone unfortunate enough to be left outdoors.
Anyone who’s ever been caught up in a flying ant storm will know that, although harmless, these insects are a gross nuisance when present in such large numbers, especially if they find their way into your house. But when and why does this freaky natural event happen, and is there anything you can do to prepare for flying ant day?
What is flying ant day?
Flying ant day refers to a 24-hour period in the summertime when millions and millions of winged ants come out of hiding across the UK and take to the skies.
This phenomenon can be witnessed up and down the country and the air is often thick with these usually-terrestrial insects. But why does it happen, and is there anything you can do to prepare for it?
When is flying ant day?
Flying ant day is a summer event, and usually happens in July or August. This is because weather is the key factor in triggering this behavior, and ants can’t fly without warm, calm conditions.
What are flying ants?
Flying ants belong to the same colonies as those you see scurrying around on ground level and are the same species. However, only male and queen ants have wings.
This is because the bodily structure of ants depends on their role within the colony, and can generally be divided into three separate castes:
Queen ants are the winged, fertile females that produce all the eggs for a colony. Queens only mate once and store the sperm from this encounter in a special sac. After this, she can continue fertilizing eggs for the whole colony for up to 25 years. A colony may have one or several queens reproducing at once, depending on the species of the ants.
Worker ants are always wingless and are usually female. They are sterile and do not reproduce, though they make up the majority of the colony. These ants defend the nest, look for food and look after the eggs and larvae of the colony.
Like queen ants, male ants also have wings and are fertile. However, unlike the queen ants (which live for around 25 years) male ants, also known as drones, only survive a few weeks. Their sole purpose is to mate with new, unfertilized queens, and they die shortly after this happens.
Why does flying ant day happen?
Flying ant day happens when the winged, fertile males (drones) and young queen ants (alates) of the colony emerge from their nests to mate in what is known as a nuptial flight. The come together in airborne pairs to mate, after which the males promptly die and the females chew off their own wings before looking for the perfect place to start their new colonies.
The reason why they all do this at the same time is primarily down to weather conditions. Ants are unable to fly below temperatures of 13C (55F), or in wind speeds greater than 6.3m/s. So, ants up and down the country wait for the perfect day and, as soon as conditions are optimal, take flight en masse to become a nationwide nuisance.
Are flying ants dangerous?
Good to know!
Flying ants are not dangerous. They are no different from the other species of ants you see around your yard and house and very rarely bite people. On flying ant day, they have one thing and one thing only on their minds, and that’s to find a mate to complete their nuptial flight.
This means they’re even less interested than usual in your picnic fare, though they now have the ability to fly into your face.
How can you prepare for flying ant day?
Flying ants are harmless and short-lived, but can be a nuisance if you have a nest on your property. You can prepare for flying ant day by:
Identify and exterminate colonies
As summer approaches, keep an eye out for possible ant nests around your property. If you do identify a problem area (colonies are usually marked by an anthill), you can kill the ants by pouring water over the spot.
Use insecticidal powder
If you have a problem with ants coming into your house, using an insecticidal powder or natural alternative (like diatomaceous earth) can help to keep them out on flying ant day. Apply this over door thresholds and windowsills to deter ants from passing.
Use bug spray
A DIY spray (made with water and liquid soap) can kill ants stone dead and is an easy way to quickly reduce their numbers.
Keep your windows and doors closed
If all else fails, retreat indoors and close the windows until it’s over. At least it’s only one day!
Flying ant day is a nationwide phenomenon in which millions of winged ants emerge from their colonies and take to the skies to perform their nuptial flight. This annual mating ritual involves the short-lived, fertile males (called drones) and new, unfertilized queens (named alates) of each colony, who wait for the warm weather of summer to fly. Once mated, the drones die off and the now-fertilized queens seek out a new nesting site, where they continue to lay eggs for the entire colony for up to 25 years.
The fact that this behavior is triggered by weather conditions means this is usually a mass event, with thousands of ants from thousands of colonies taking wing at the same time. Flying ants are completely harmless, however, and their ritual is over in just 24 hours. After this, they return to their usual earthly terrain where they are – let’s face it – only slightly less annoying.