Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ant mating flight

Ants are one of the most fascinating insects you may find in your garden. Today was a humid evening, ideal flying conditions for the ant mating flight. For some time now, winged queens and males have been present in the underground nests of the black ant. The worker ants have been preventing them from leaving, waiting for the right conditions.
                                  Entrance to the underground nest

The queens are released first, which often climb up to the highest points, a wall, gate post, vegetation, before launching themselves into the air.

Winged queen

Then the smaller males are released. The goal being to catch and mate with a female and in theory only the strongest males catch up and mate with a queen.
Queen and smaller male mating

After the mating flight the queen comes back to the ground and discards her wings, as they will no longer be needed.
She will quickly seek out a suitable place to dig a tunnel and start a new colony. Once the tunnel has been completed a queen will block the entrance and retreat to the bottom. The queen ant then digs out a small chamber, this will serve as the founding chamber of the new colony. Generally a queen will begin to lay eggs immediately after the construction of the chamber, the eggs will hatch after 8-10 weeks.

Of course not all the queens will mate and start new colonies. Many will be eaten by predators such as birds and spiders, becoming trapped in their webs.
                                                     Winged queen ants in spider webs
The males that survive will die a few days after the mating flight having performed their role.

Mating flights usually attract a lot of attention from gulls and other birds who pluck them out of the air or catch them on the ground before they fly. This year, few birds were attracted by the flight. All except this herring gull picking them up up off the road and eating them.

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