Also known as the pavement ant, the black garden ant (Lasius niger) is the most common ant seen in towns and gardens. They nest almost anywhere, under pavements, in soil, along the edges of lawns, under rocks and in flower pots.
The small black ants which we are most familiar with are the workers. Foraging, cleaning and feeding ant larvae, they live as adults for around a month and are all female. Colonies can grow to have as many as 15,000 workers, though more typically have around 5,000. Each nest has one queen which, impressively, can live for more than 10 years. The oldest known Lasius niger queen lived for an amazing 29 years!
Flying ants are composed of immature virgin queens and the males. The males do no work and are produced only for the flying season when they emerge with the virgin queens for the nuptial flight. The virgin queens will hang around the entrance of their nests pondering if now is the best time for a bit of flying. Hundreds of thousands of males and virgin queens take to the skies, mate then return to the ground and shed their wings. Males generally only live for a day or two after the mating flights, but the queens go in search of the perfect site to start their new colony.
Only a few queens will survive predation to dig a new nest hole. They then block themselves in before single-handedly laying and raising the first workers of the new colony. Whilst the queen waits 6-8 weeks for the workers to mature she will not eat, instead slowly reabsorbing her now unnecessary wing muscles for nutrition.
Black garden ants are well known for their tendency to enter homes and raid sugar bowls. They have a varied diet, from nectar and fruit to other small invertebrates. Ants also farm aphids, harvesting the honeydew they excrete.
The Society of Biology is collecting sightings of flying ants. Take note of the time, date, location and local weather conditions and submit records through an online survey. Alternatively, photos can be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or shared on twitter using the #flyingantsurvey or on Flickr by tagging them with ‘flyingantsurvey‘.