Sunday, August 25, 2019

Flying black ants

My daughter and her partner have a raised flower bed in their garden near Cambridge, built from old railway sleepers, and yesterday large numbers of the alate (winged) form of black ants emerged from their underground nest, for their nuptial flight. 

They swarmed on a day of classic flying ant conditions - hot, almost windless and sultry - and several hundred took to the air in the space of about fifteen minutes. These were either males or new queens, which would shed their wings and found a new colony after they had been fertilised.

These spectacular flights of black ants provide a valuable food source for birds. Fortunately there were still swifts, swallows and house martins flying around the village, be benefit from this sudden abundance of food. 

One interesting aspect of this event was that the winged ants seemed to be under attack from the much smaller workers from the moment they appeared above ground. The smaller ants constantly harassed the alates, nipping at their head and wings with their jaws,  until the took to the air. Once the winged forms were all airborne the workers disappeared below ground again.

A few of the winged forms seemed to be weakened or killed by the attacks.

In this image you can see a worker gripping an alate's wing with its jaws.  

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