Summary: It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a….flying ant? Yes, some ants have wings, but the flying ant only comes out once a year; kind of like Santa Clause but with antennae. Find out more about why flying ants fly.
Swarming ants got you thinking about termites? Don't let a hyperactive pest control salesperson sell you a termite treatment until you have read this article.
All ant species produce winged ants. The winged variety of ants are almost always the reproductive males and females of the ant colonies. They are most often seen a day or so after a hard summertime rain, swarming out of the ground to form massive clouds consisting of millions of individuals.
The timing of ant swarms appears to be coordinated with neighboring ant colonies, because the swarming behavior occurs at the same time. Actually, the ants are just responding to seasonal cues like temperature, humidity and wind speed, but the coordinated swarms helps create safety in numbers which reduces their chances of being eaten by a predator. The swarming of multiple ant colonies also promotes interbreeding which increases genetic diversity and adaptability.
An ant colony needs several years to grow from when it is started to the point reproductive ants with wings are developed. The colony needs to produce several thousand worker ants before beginning to breed sexually mature ants with wings. A colony is founded by a single reproductive female, known as the queen. When the winged female leaves her colony to begin a new colony, her journey is known as the “nuptial flight”. The colony pushes out the winged ants to swarm and the males gather around the female who is producing powerful sex pheromones.
The flying ant often displays a behavior known as “hilltopping”. They swarm around the tallest object of the landscape like a tree or chimney. The females are much larger than the males, and they will try to dip and dodge the males, only allowing the fastest and fittest males to deposit their sperm. A queen will mate with several males, but males only mate with one female, if they are lucky.
Regardless of whether they are successful, the male's wings drop off after the mating period and the males drop to the ground and die. The female also loses its wings, but she will drop to the ground and begin to build a new
colony. This is the same thing termites do, too.
Flying ants, like termites, may also swarm indoors. This usually happens when the ant colony already exists somewhere within the structure. Carpenter ants and pharaoh ants are two species that sometimes make their homes indoors. Field ants will sometimes build colonies outdoors but close to buildings, so they can appear on window sills or other areas near cracks leading from the outside.
Flying ants are not dangerous to humans, even if they do show up indoors and freak you out. Flying ants only appear for a day and then disperse widely to start new colonies. However, ant swarms should not be ignored, because it is a signal that something is or may be amiss. Collect samples of the ants and show them to a reliable professional pest control company for proper identification. Why pay for an expensive termite treatment when all you need is a simple ant treatment?