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Flying ant facts

Posted by on July 26, 2012

Flying ant survey - report flying ant day sightings

Rebecca Nesbit, Society of Biology

Submit your flying ant sightings!

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.


8 Responses to Flying ant facts

  1. Leah

    Flying ants swarming in clarehall area of Dublin this evening!!!!! It’s pretty wierd!!!!

  2. Julian

    Two sightings of emerging ants already reported to the flying ant survey on 15th and 18th July were preceded some 24 hours earlier, in both instances, by an adult green woodpecker tapping on the brickwork where the ants would eventually emerge and feeding two juvenile woodpeckers with the spoils which emerged from the cracks. The adult also proceeded to extract ants from a small ant heap in the corner of the lawn adjacent to a brick wall using it’s bill to lever open the exit hole to the ant’s nest and feeding the two young birds which waited patiently for food.
    The family has returned on a daily basis to explore food possibilities. I have allowed the adjacent three acres of meadow and trees to grow fairly wild which has resulted in a high incidence of large ant heaps and also a good grasshopper population for the resident bird population.
    Unlike last year the two emergences witnessed this year were not accompanied by the usual gull attendance but were predated by about 30 of our resident swallows and their families together with a few swifts.

  3. Hannah


    I have had flying and crawling ants INSIDE my house for the last 3-4 weeks. I have put down every sort of over the counter chemical (Nippon etc) to no avail and now had, at great expense, pest control out twice and still the ants are here. They are driving me insane and seem to go quiet in the mornings and evenings and then come to life and crawl on EVERYTHING when the weather warms up. I am sick of them and it’s not good with kids and pets. Any advice would be greatly received…..


  4. jeff cook

    Do Darwin ants fly. I know that Argentine ants are winged but do not fly. I am told they can expand colonies up up 50 metres per year.What about Darwins?? My concern is with regard to movement between islands that are Darwin ant free and islands that have them.
    I look forward to your reply
    Regards Jeff.