Sunday, 7 August 2016

Flying Ant Day...

Friday the 5th of August was our 'Flying Ant Day' in East Cheshire. With temperatures in the early/mid 20s (C) and calm and humid conditions in the afternoon, the garden came alive with ants first swarming in between the paving slabs and in the lawn before ultimately flying off in every direction.

The ants typically found in UK gardens are the small black 'Lasius niger' species. They spend the majority of their time in their underground nests with one queen and many thousand worker ants comprising the colony. Each year in summertime winged ants made up of young queens and males also develop within the colony and when the environmental conditions are just right, they will leave the nest to take to the air for their first and only time - their so-called 'nuptial flight'. 

The first sign of anything unusual was the swarming of ants coming from between the flagstones. A closer look revealed that among them were hundreds if not thousands of winged ants emerging, the young queens the more obvious being considerably larger than their male suitors. The young queens leave first closely followed by the males (whose only purpose is to mate before dying an untimely and unpleasant death!). They will mate on the wing and then the newly mated queens will search for a suitable place to set up a new nest and colony and will ultimately lose their wings. 

The odds are phenomenally stacked against any one of these individual queens successfully setting up a new colony so rather than resenting these insects as creating a [tabloid headline style] 'annoying invasion', better instead I thought marvel at what really is quite a spectacular and peculiarly synchronised annual phenomenon. The whole episode in our garden was over within about an hour, but was pretty special while it lasted

Young queens emerging from between paving slabs

Young queen being tended by worker (showing the considerable size difference)

The flying ants (this a young queen) were clambering all over low-growing plants before take-off

The video is shaky but at least shows the differences in size between the largest flying ants - the young queens, the considerably smaller flying males, and smallest of all the workers.