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Flying Ant Day

12 July 2011 | Posted in Insects , Wildlife

Author Neil Fletcher

Monday 11th July saw millions of flying ants taking off on their mating flights right across Sussex.

The black garden ant (Lasius niger) produces large, winged queens at this time of year, which incredibly synchronise their mating flights with thousands of other colonies all on the same afternoon. The smaller winged males join the queens and mate with them in mid-air, then the queens return to earth, lose their wings and seek a new site to set up a new colony of ants. Most queens are not successful, but those that are may live 10-15 years laying eggs for the new colony.

The spectacle rivals the mass synchronised spawning of corals in tropical reefs, but quite how the ant colonies know when to blast off is still a bit of a mystery. The weather and barometric pressure clearly plays a part, but is there also some chemical or other message passed from colony to colony. The synchronisation ensures that there is a greater chance of succesful matings with ants of different colonies, and provides a sudden 'glut' for a short period so that predators like swifts, swallows and gulls are unable to eat many of them before they're all gone again.


  • Kevin Lerwill:

    12 Jul 2011 11:00:04

    The common theory is that Flying Ants “synchronise” their mating flights largely by emerging on the few days of the year when the air temperature is equal to that underground.

  • Neil Fletcher:

    12 Jul 2011 14:08:50

    Thanks Kevin – that makes sense. What is astonishing though is that they all seem to take to the air at exactly the same time. Yesterday I dashed around and all the ants were flying from separate colonies at the same moment – even two miles away. Then I heard that the same was happening in London. You’d think that subtle differences underground would stagger the emergence by a few hours [or days] at least!

  • Dave McCarthy:

    12 Jul 2011 19:08:15

    I live in Liverpool and while I was vacuuming one the downstairs rooms I noticed a couple of queens on the carpet, only when I looked behind a bookcase did I see hundreds (well lots) of male and female flying ants aswell as workers, all scurrying around the central heating pipes. Apologies to all ant lovers, but the ant killer was out in a flash. Nature is great but not in the house eh?

  • 13 Jul 2011 13:44:10

    I think this has been one of the most spectacular years for a long time. Generally the queens in our garden come of the nest and run along the ground and up the nearest wall or similar where the hesitate for ages before they fly off.

    This year they poured forth stright onto the wing from two of the nests and was quite spectacular. Interestingly this did not attact much attention fom the many swifts and gulls we have nearby.

    Unfortunately I have not had the time to update this on my weblog yet, too many things to watch, bees, swifts nesting next door, 2 herring gull nests nearby, fox and cub and bats in the evening. So I have gotten a bit behind.

    Re the mating flight triggered by temperature I guess this will also depend on the individual micro climates in say a garden – so not all the nests may have mating flights on the same day.

    Three of the nests had mating flights on 11th July, but one big nest has not. Also, the next day, I moved the garden ornament that one of the three nests was situated under (to mow the lawn) and found that there were still queens in the nest. So today (after reading this entry) I carefully moved the rock on our rockery (another of the three nests) and these still had queens as well.

    I do seem to remember on past occasions that some of the nests have had more than one mating flight. Also a couple of weeks before this, there were other black ant mating flights in our area. I live in north Portslade – East Sussex.

    Maybe temperature differences in an urban habitat?

    Ants are (in my humble opinion) one of the most fascinating insects you can find in your garden

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