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Flying ants near you? Tell the scientists studying their sex life


They emerged in Bristol, a great seething black mass. By last Friday the vanguard of this insect extravaganza had reached London. It means that flying ant day is upon us.

Every year Britain’s ants co-ordinate their annual mating spree. Queens of the common ant and their would-be mates take to the skies as one. Then, as suddenly as it began, the fertilised queens drop to the ground to start a new colony. The males die.

This year, their sacrifice will not go unrecorded. The Society of Biology is asking Britons to report sightings of flying ants (societyofbiology.org/flyingantsurvey) in the hope of furthering our knowledge about just how they time their emergence.

“I’d like to know the pattern,†said Dr Adam Hart, from the University of Gloucestershire. “Is there a wave of them coming out from the south of the country to the north? How synchronised are they? We know they gauge local conditions. But when? In the afternoon? This is the kind of finer detail we’d like.â€

Past evidence has suggested that while locally ants all emerge on or around the same day, nationally the flying ant period can last much longer. The reason they emerge from the ground together is partly so that the queens can find mates from outside their colony, and partly to overwhelm predators.

“There is huge mortality,†said Dr Hart. “That’s why you see all the birds around. Producing so many ants is like buying lots of lottery tickets.â€

Every year a colony might produce hundreds of queens, but only one would be expected to create a new colony.

Mortality among the males is even higher. “They are basically flying sperm,†Dr Hart said. “They do nothing apart from this glorious moment they are released into the world and die.â€

For Dr Hart the real glory of flying ant day though is that it is a reminder of what is going on under our feet all year, ordinarily unnoticed.

“When they start coming out, it makes you realise just how ubiquitous ants are.â€


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I've always been fascinated by 'flying ant day' and in recent years it's seemed to occur on several days - maybe due to the lack

of those familar warm/hot and humid evenings so they take a chance when conditions are half decent?

There were some around here yesterday evening but I'm wondering if this evening will be the real 'fly'.

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