Every summer there is a moment when thousands of giant flying ants leave their nests all at once – a spectacle nicknamed Flying Ant Day.
The phenomenon, which usually takes place sometime between late June and August, will see giant black swarming clouds of the winged insects descend on streets and gardens across the UK.
July is often their most favorite month – and although the event has been dubbed “flying ant day,” their release often takes several days before they are seen in their greatest numbers.
Different weather patterns in the UK can also mean the exact date may differ by a day or two depending on where you live and how the different colonies react to more local changes.
But around this time of year, swarms of insects are common as they take to the skies as part of their reproductive phase of their ‘nuptial flight’, so when might the masses arrive and should you try to keep them out of your home?
What happened last year?
Last year, Flying Ant Day took place in most parts of the country between early and mid-July, when the creatures appeared in their greatest numbers.
Often encouraged by a period of warmer and drier weather, sometimes after a period of very heavy rain, a particular swarm was picked up on Met Office radars after particularly humid weather in the Southeast.
During their flight, the young queen ants will mate with the strongest males before landing and starting their own colony in a new location.
The Natural History Museum explains that it might be more accurate to call the event “flying ant season,” as there is often more than one occasion for the critters to be seen by the thousands during the summer months.
It explains: “This annual swarming event usually takes place in July or August and coincides with a period of warm and humid weather. Winged ants appear in the country at different times and local weather conditions are critical for coordinating swarm activity. “
And while most of us may not enjoy the thought of thousands of winged critters buzzing overhead, it can be quite a sight.
You can see them from space
Last year’s sighting by the Met Office, where a large swarm was picked up on weather radars over London as forecasters monitored the skies ahead of the Wimbledon final, isn’t the only time the flying pest has been detected on high-tech. cameras.
In 2019, a huge swarm of insects spotted over the south coast was so close it could be seen from space.
The Met Office’s radar picked up something spreading across Kent, East and West Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset – initially thinking it could be a downpour. But a closer look revealed that they were indeed thousands of flying ants.
For people who live around the coast, flying ants can present an entirely different challenge, as the creatures produce formic acid, which can prove irresistible to seagulls. Birds love to gorge on the ants and the effect of the acid can make them look almost drunk and it’s not uncommon to see them stumbling along the shore.
Do you have to get rid of them?
Flying ants used to swim in the summer months – because the heat, wind patterns and humidity are just right for them and gathering in greater numbers when they leave the safety of their nest helps protect them from predators.
Other than being annoying, the flying ants should do very little harm. And while their arrival and breeding behavior signify the start of new colonies, they can be extremely beneficial for outdoor areas.
In June and July you will likely see hundreds of them crawling on the ground as they get ready to move and they can help aerate the soil while also controlling other pests, not to mention a potential and abundant food source for many birds.
Pest Control Rentokil recommends keeping doors and windows closed when the ants are circulating in particularly large numbers, or using screens and curtains to keep them out when the weather is really too hot to keep the house closed.
And their arrival is short-lived, so after a few days you should notice that any significant populations you’ve seen in your area are starting to disappear.
But if you find a few near your home, you may want to discourage the potential for new visitors.
Experts say that a few weeks before the ants emerge, large unexplained mounds of soil can appear on the grass above nests, and this can sometimes be the first sign that new creatures are about to appear. Disrupting any nests or anthills you find in your yard can be the best place to start to reduce the risk of them coming in in large swarms.