Billions of flying ants picked up on satellite imaging
The insects were so numerous they confused the Met Office radar, which thought it was recording a rainstorm.
A cloud of flying ants that hit the south coast on Wednesday was so dense it could be seen in satellite images from space.
The swarm of insects hit the counties of Hampshire, West Sussex and Dorset and were captured on the Met Office’s radar.
They were also spotted in East Sussex and Kent.
The weather was perfect for ants to move into the “nuptial flight” phase of their reproduction, also known as “flying ant day” – where virgin queen ants are followed by male ants hoping to mate.
As the queen sets off, she emits pheromones that attract the males.
But when they follow her she will flee, meaning only the strongest are able to keep up and mate with her.
The process helps to make sure her offspring are as fit as they can be.
If you said flying ants 🐜 you were correct! ✔️— Met Office (@metoffice) July 17, 2019
We know this to be insect clutter (flying ants) based on inspection of raw reflectivity (Zdr and RhoHV) #WednesdayWisdom #FlyingAnts pic.twitter.com/8HejoLB9u5
A Met Office spokesperson said the ants showed up on their image as a showers of rain because “the radar thinks the beams are hitting raindrops not ants”.
It may have seemed like it was actually raining ants because male ants who have successfully mated shed their wings and fall to the ground where they will start new colonies.
Flying ants are mostly harmless to humans, but they do have a strange effect on seagulls who can appear drunk after eating a few due to formic acid they expel.
A flying ant day usually occurs when a spell of wet weather is followed by hot humid weather.
Although referred to as a day, the mating ritual can last for several weeks in high summer.
By the end, billions of ants will have taken to the skies.