You may have read recently that the Met Office picked up on their radar, what looked like a band of rain hitting the south coast. However, what appeared to be rain actually turned out to be a huge swarm of flying ants. Newspaper reports have actually quoted 50 miles of flying ants.
The swarm was detected in the skies over Kent and Sussex undertaking their nuptial flight, during which by mating new colonies are formed. The ants usually emerge on a warm, humid and windless summer’s day in order to procreate.
Almost certainly when you encounter flying ants these will be the black garden ant because flying ants are not actually a different variety of ant. They are ants that have purely grown wings for the mating season. The black garden ant tends to build nests between brickwork, under paving stones or in the soil.
The ants swarm as a way of improving the odds of mating and obviously by swarming more protection is provided from predator attacks. Birds, especially seagulls, will form a major threat and often large numbers of seagulls will be seen once the ants swarm.
The swarming tends to be triggered by the weather, and certainly bright sunlight, high humidity, warm temperatures and calm winds. Swarming therefore tends to occur in late spring and early summer.
Following swarming large numbers of male ants die, probably in the region of half the male ants in fact die. The fertilised queen ants however, will endeavour to find a good site whereby they can start a new colony.
Flying ants, if left alone should disappear within a few days and are, in fact, beneficial for the outdoor environment. Most ants nest in the ground and their digging of a labyrinth of tunnels help to aerate the soil, allowing moisture to get to the roots of plants. Ants control pests and improve garden fertility.