Flying Ant Day 2017: what is it and how to deal with an insect invasion?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a flying ant! The UK will soon be under attack from millions of flying ants – here’s how to deal with them.

The warm, balmy weather may be nice – but it brings with it something far less pleasant: swarms of flying ants.

Millions of the tiny winged critters will soon be spotted all over the country on what's dubbed Flying Ant Day.

They seem to occur at the same time everywhere in the UK when the weather warms up, because the warm air and long nights make perfect conditions for young queen ants to leave the nest to mate and then start their own colony.

Each year, normally in July or August, huge numbers of flying ants – males and young queens – suddenly appear on a ‘nuptial flight’. They are simply regular ants – probably black garden ants – that develop wings during the mating season and then mate during flight.

Most people will just lock themselves indoors at the first sign of a swarm of flying ants, but the Society of Biology says that if you took the time to look carefully at the swarm, you'll see that some are much larger than others.

These are the queens, and the large numbers of males they fly with, both from her nest and others, means there's a very high chance she'll be able to mate with a male from another nest and start her new colony.

Once the males and immature queens have mated mid-air, the queens lose their wings and start a new nest underground. After a ‘flying ant day’ you can sometimes see large queen ants walking around on their own, looking for somewhere to nest.

The males are only produced during flying ant season and don’t do any work in the nest: their only job is to mate with new queens, and they only live for a day or two after the mating flights.

The Society of Biology runs a flying ant survey, which has previously discovered there's a month of high flying ant activity in the UK, with four distinct peaks.

Reasons to hate flying ants

• They swarm in millions.
• Their swarms have been known to halt sporting events like golf and cricket.
• They can bite, although flying ants aren't aggressive and are more interested in mating.
• They can get stuck in your hair, on your clothes and on car windscreens.

Reasons to love flying ants

• They're predators and scavengers who will eat insects, spiders and other small invertebrates.
• Flying ants provide a vital food resource for many species of birds, particularly swifts and gulls.
• When a female finds an ant to mate with, she'll play kiss-chase by flying away from the male. But rather than being a tease, she's simply ensuring her suitor is fit and fast enough to catch her.
• Their flying swarms disappear within a day.
• Ants have the largest brains of all insects, and are strong enough to carry up to seven times their own body weight.

How to get rid of flying ants

• Use an ant-killer spray.
• Spray them with diluted washing up liquid.
• Lay double-sided sticky tape near a food source.
• Combine equal parts borax and sugar with water to make a paste, and spread it on a piece of cardboard where ants fly. Borax is highly toxic to ants, but if you mix it with sugar the ants won't detect the poison and will carry the borax back to the colony. But be careful, as borax is toxic to children and pets, too.


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