Survey debunks myth of 'flying ant day'

Jul 24, 2014
Survey debunks myth of 'flying ant day'
Flying ants emerging from the grass. Credit:

Warm weather this year and last has caused multiple flights of flying ants, often thought only to swarm once a year.

The annual swarming usually occurs from early to mid July each year, coinciding with hot and humid weather, usually only lasting a few days.

However, a survey launched by the Society of Biology in 2012, with data analysed by Professor Adam Hart at the University of Gloucestershire, has shown more complex swarming patterns over the past two years.

Similar patterns are expected this year. The 2014 survey was launched on 13 June and invites the public to send in flying ant sightings so scientists can plot the swarms taking place this summer.

More flying days

'The good weather seems to be causing multiple flights with much less synchrony than we saw in 2012,' Prof Hart said. 'So far the idea of a flying ant day is very much a myth. Last year we had a flying ant month.'

The survey results from 2012 showed two flying ant days divided by two weeks of poor weather, with an even more complex pattern in 2013 with four peaks of flying ant appearance between 22nd July - 22nd August.

Flying are the sexually mature queens and males of the common black ant, Lasius niger, known as alates. Worker ants will have been preparing to swarm during the past few weeks, with heaps of soil appearing above their nests.

The alates emerge from the nest every year and take flight, looking for a mate. The large winged females and the smaller winged males are often seen flying joined together, which is known as the nuptial flight.

Strength in numbers

Swarming in large numbers all at once provides protection for the ants from predators. The larger the swarm, the more predators are kept away.

Another reason for their large numbers is to increase the chance of reproduction.

Brief encounter

Once they've mated, the role of the males is over. The mated queens quickly shed their wings and begin looking for a suitable site to nest and create a new colony of their own.

These flying insects may seem annoying to some people, but their tunnelling activities are important to improving soil quality.

The swarming events also provide a vital food resource for many species of birds. Swifts and gulls can often be seen feeding frenziedly from rising swarms of ants.

There are about 60 species of ant in the UK, which all live in complex colonies. Other non-native species are becoming more widespread, including the pharaoh and Argentine ants.

Nationwide event

'We need as many records as we can get so that we can tease out all the factors that might be affecting one of the most interesting nationwide wildlife events we have here in the UK,' Prof Hart said.

Museum identification service

Seen a strange bug in your home or garden? Ask a Museum scientist to identify it by using our Identification and Advisory Service, or by posting a photo on our bug forum.

Explore further: Butterfly larvae mimic queen ant to avoid detection

Related Stories

Butterfly larvae mimic queen ant to avoid detection

Apr 09, 2014

Parasitic butterfly larvae may mimic ants' acoustic signals to aid in the infiltration of their host colonies, according to results published April 9, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Marco Sala f ...

Plants compete for friendly ants

Feb 10, 2014

( —Many woodland plants rely on ants to disperse their seeds; such seed dispersal increases the plant population's chance of survival. Robert Warren, assistant professor of biology, has recently ...

The Society of Biology calls for sightings of house spiders

Aug 23, 2013

Each autumn the number of spiders seen indoors suddenly increases as males go on the hunt for a mate. The Society of Biology has launched a new recording scheme and is asking everyone who sees house spiders to report their sightings. The fre ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

3 hours ago

It doesn't turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname "transformer frog" for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

US gives threatened status to northern long-eared bat

6 hours ago

The federal government said Wednesday that it is listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened, giving new protections to a species that has been nearly wiped out in some areas by the spread of a fungal ...

Mice sing like songbirds to woo mates

6 hours ago

Male mice sing surprisingly complex songs to seduce females, sort of like songbirds, according to a new Duke study appearing April 1 in the Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience.

A new crustacean species found in Galicia

7 hours ago

One reason that tourists are attracted to Galicia is for its food. The town of O Grove (Pontevedra) is well known for its Seafood Festival and the Spider Crab Festival. A group of researchers from the University ...

Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

8 hours ago

(—The results of a study conducted to see how well ants carry out their search activities in space are in, and the team that sent them there has written and published the results in the journal ...

Rats found able to recognize pain in other rat faces

9 hours ago

(—A team of researchers working in Japan with affiliations to several institutions in that country, has found that lab rats are able to recognize pain in the faces of other rats and avoid them ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.