Flying Ant Day: When the Terrible Moment Comes, Everything You Need to Know About When and Why It Happens | The independent

Flying ant day has arrived.

People across the country flee from cover and are rejected on the ground beneath their feet as the critters leap off the sidewalk and fly at people.

The whole process is a consequence of the weather and an important part of their reproduction. For the ants, it’s an important part of their life cycle – and for humans, it’s an important part of summer.

And while the whole thing can be incredibly stressful for people just trying to get home, or tennis players just trying to win Wimbledon, it can be even more intense for the ants.

What is it?

Flying Ant Day is aptly named: it’s a day of flying ants. And many of them.

If you’ve been lucky enough to dodge the phenomenon, here’s how it usually goes: First you get hit in the face by a flying ant, or you might see a strange number of bugs on the ground, and then you’ll be hit by another, and then they keep coming.

The ants – which have temporary wings – jump out of the ground and try to disperse. Often that means they spread right in your face just as you walk around.

Why is it happening?

The ants have entered the “nuptial flight” phase of their reproduction. Flying Ant Day is actually the day when the ants take off from their colonies and use their wings to fly to a new one so that they can disperse.

While not all ants can fly, the winged queens and males have remained in their colonies until the perfect time to get out, disperse and reproduce. Flying Ant Day is the moment that happens.

For the ants, the day is incredibly intense – even more intense than for the humans who bump into it.

When the queen goes out, she emits pheromones that attract the males. But if they follow her, she’ll run away — that flight process means only the fittest are left to mate with, making sure her kids are as fit and fast as possible.

Once that mating takes place, she will likely mate with several male ants during the nuptial flight period known as flying ant day. She can then store their sperm in her abdomen for a lifetime and use it to fertilize millions of eggs.

The process is evolutionarily useful, as it helps the ants spread their population to other areas and prevents interbreeding.

When is it?

It usually happens sometime in July or August. The exact date will depend on a host of factors, but weather is an important one – and the current combination of intense heat and then high humidity seems to have kicked them into action already this year.

So is it over?

No. While flying ant day is celebrated with all the enthusiasm of an annual holiday, it can even happen more than once a year.

The day of flying ants depends on their habitat, the local weather, what species they are and a whole host of other factors. All of these variables apply differently to different ants – meaning they come out on different days, although it will focus on certain waves so the ants can maximize the chance of meeting a mate.

Plus, the flying ants are out now. They won’t stop for weeks to come, so you’ll be feeling the effects of today for a while.

Is there danger?

Not really. Flying ants are usually harmless – although some have been known to bite, this is very rare in the UK.

All you can really do is try to avoid coming into contact with them. That will be difficult given their ability to jump out of the ground at the most disgusting moment, but by staying alert you can try to keep them from flying into your mouth or elsewhere.

There are ways to kill them: shelling them with dish soap, or covering them with water or pouring them into their nest. But the bugs are beneficial to the environment — they help keep the soil aerated and ecosystems thriving, and they also provide beneficial food for birds — so while it may be disgusting, it’s better to just put up with the critters.

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