Swarms of flying ants are on the wing across Northern Ireland as they search for love.
Massed mating flights have been sighted across the country encouraged by the improvement in the weather.
Scientists at the Society of Biology have received more than a thousand reports of flying ants across the UK and say the belated sunshine in Northern Ireland is now bringing a flood of sightings.
The first were from Bangor and Lisburn but, as the better weather spread, reports started coming in from across Northern Ireland, with many accounts of swarms in gardens and even some inside houses.
One Lisburn woman reported a swarm of flying ants on her patio and said they were crawling into the house under the kitchen door. Other swarms have been seen in woodland or hedgerows.
It’s thought that the sightings across the water have now reached their peak, but because of the delay in the arrival of the good weather here, the peak in sightings in Northern Ireland is yet to come.
Dr Adam Hart, an ecologist and insect expert at the University of Gloucestershire, who is working with the Society of Biology on the survey, said: “After such a wet summer it’s wonderful to see all these flying ant reports coming in, interestingly at a very similar time to last year.
“We expect flying ant day to be different around the country, and we’re really interested to learn more about this.”
The most common flying ants seen at the moment is the black garden ant, Lasius Niger. The ants we see throughout the year are sterile female workers, but flying ants are males and new queens embarking on their nuptial flight.
Queens can live for around 10-15 years and only mate once. Having mated, a new queen will drop her wings then start her own colony.
Once she has dug a nest she will lay her first eggs, and use her wing muscles for energy until the first workers are ready to forage.
Over the next few years she will keep laying eggs and her colony will typically reach 5,000 workers — although some grow to 15,000.
Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, said: “Through our flying ant survey we hope to learn more about how the weather affects the time of emergence.
“Both the weather on the day the ants emerge and the weather in the run-up to their emergence can be important.
“We also hope to learn how synchronised the emergence of flying ants is across the UK.
“It is important that the flights are synchronised between nests, because the flying ants won’t survive very long and need to maximise the chances of meeting ants from other colonies to mate with. It is fascinating to study how they manage to do this.”
The Society of Biology plans to make this an annual survey, to help understand how and why the timing of emergence changes year on year.
Much of what we know about ants comes from experiments which scientists can perform but collecting information about ant emergencies around the UK relies on lots of people submitting their records. The Society of Biology is asking everyone who sees flying ants in 2012 to make a note of the time, date, location and weather conditions, and submit records through an online survey www.societyofbiology.org.
Anyone who takes photos of flying ants can share them by emailing Christina Catlin-Groves (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Pictures and experiences can also be shared on Twitter using the hashtag #flyingantsurvey, and photos tagged ‘flyingantsurvey’ on Flickr will be uploaded to the Flickr group.
The results of the survey will be presented during the first ever Biology Week, October 13-19. Events around the country will celebrate Biology Week. Details from www.societyofbiology.org/biologyweek.
- The black garden ant is one of the most common ant species found in Europe. It is a very active, fast moving ant and will typically run away from human confrontation.
- It is well-known for the once a year nuptial flight, when flying princesses and drones can be found everywhere.
- It is found particularly in gardens under bricks and stone and also commonly between pavements. They will often enter houses.
- It eats anything sweet. Seeds. Small insects. Honeydew farmed from aphids and its colony size can grow up to 15,000 workers.