We have had an overwhelming response to our flying ant survey and some very interesting questions about flying ants. So I thought I’d bring them all together, along with a couple of videos of ‘my’ flying ant colonies in Hertfordshire. You can also read about why ants fly on our website or the BBC. If you have any more questions, add a comment below and I will do my best to answer them.
Firstly, a question from Mandy from Rochdale:
Hi, just read your article about flying ants, I recall an incident about 16 years ago. Went outside to be greeted by a carpet of thousands upon thousands of dead and dying flying ants covering the garden. Is this a normal phenomenon or would it have been something toxic they flew into, It has always puzzled me.
This is a natural event, which many of you may have witnessed, although Mandy’s does sound particularly spectacular. The males will die very quickly – their only role in life is to mate. Although some queens can live over 10 years if they found a nest, most won’t make it through the first few days. One of the reasons is the number that get eaten by birds.
The very high mortality rate is common in insects – most species produce lots of offspring of which very few survive.
I have also received some comments and questions to do with formic acid, including the effect on gulls. The flying ants we are seeing at the moment are mainly the black garden ant, but the ants most famous for producing formic acid are wood ants (Formica spp.). These are larger and don’t fly at this time of year. Amazingly, birds can use formic acid from ants to clear parasites! This is fascinating behaviour called ‘anting‘.
Here are some videos I took of two colonies of ants I saw this week when I was walking back from the station. These are typical of what many people will have been seeing, and I’d be interested to know whether other people saw swarms of similar sizes.
And finally, some facts from Twitter, mainly from a Q and A we had with Dr Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire.