It happens every summer and it always takes us by surprise. One day everything’s normal, the next you’re literally covered in insects and you don’t know why. Happy Flying Ant Day!
With the combined regularity and complete unpredictability of Pancake Day, the annual day when Britain’s population of flying ants decide to swarm is upon us. So what’s going on?
What the hell are these things?
Known by scientists as alates, the little critters are either sexually mature queens or males (queens are the bigger ones) of the more common backyard ants (lasius niger if you’re being posh). They measure up to an inch long.
Why do they all choose today to do their thing?
Flying Ant Day is very much a moveable feast, depending where you are. The annual swarming takes place during a period of hot and humid weather, generally in July or August though it can occur at any point between the start of June and September. Often proceeded by rain and on days when it’s not too windy, Fly Ant Day happens at different times depending on where in the country you are. Usually towns and cities will experience the effect first, as they’re warmer.
And is it actually a single day?
No, it’s a misnomer to call it Flying Ant Day (though we fully intend to keep doing so!), when it really takes place over several days, though we’ll notice them more at certain times. Flying Ant Season would probably be a little more descriptive as they emerge over several weeks, albeit in waves that give the impression of being a single day.
And what are they up to?
The purpose of Flying Ant Day is for male and female ants, having sprouted their wings, to flit off on their “nuptial flight”, seeking ants from other ant colonies to mate with with virgin queen mating then landing to start a brand new colony. It’s a bit like post-A-Levels results night. But for ants.
Ew. And where are they coming from?
They’re emerging from existing ant colonies. Normally the queen will sit in the middle of her colony, looked after by up to 15,000 worker ants for as long as 10 years before leaving to start up their own.
Are they dangerous? (And tell me the thing about seagulls…)
No, just annoying as they get in your face, hair, mouth and clothes. But they are an issue if you decide to eat large numbers of them. You’re probably not putting together a menu including a large bowl of flying ants, but a phenomenon has been noted among seagulls who get ‘drunk’ on the things around this time.
The ants contain formic acid which can “stupefy” the gulls, leading them to fly into buildings, get hit by cars and graffiti the doors in gents toilets. Maybe not the last one.
Thank goodness I’m not commuting right now then!
Oh yeah, Boris just announced that he wants offices to stop WFHing and go back in. Good job you’ve got a face mask…