These miniscule, winged insects can be a common sight when the weather turns warm, but they might also leave some people puzzled. After all, ants can't fly — can they?
As it so happens, yes, ants fly, and flying ants are actually not an entirely different species of insect but just a life stage that certain ants go through.
Read on to learn more about why some ants fly and the purpose behind what people call "flying ant day." Plus, you'll discover how an ant colony works, the differences between flying ants and termites, and what to do if you find a family of flying ants has — eek! — taken up residence in your home.
What Are Flying Ants?
You can identify a flying ant by its bent antennae and the narrow waist between its thorax and abdomen. The insects have two pairs of wings — a large pair in front and a smaller pair in the back.
Flying ants are actually a stage in the ants' life cycle, rather than an entirely separate species of ants. When they reach sexual maturity, these ants develop wings, with the goal being to fly off in search of mates who will help them establish new colonies.
If you spot a large swarm of flying ants, it can mean there's a well-established ant colony nearby.
What Is Flying Ant Day?
When the conditions are right, numerous winged ants from the same species will emerge from their nests and take to the skies in a synchronized swarming known as their nuptial flight.
People also call this "flying ant day." This phenomenon occurs in hot and humid weather, typically during the summer months, although the exact timing of flying ant day always varies depending on the region and the ant species. It's actually rare that all the local ant species will swarm on the exact same day.
Male vs. Female Winged Ants
Both male and female ants participate in flying ant day, but it's not impossible to tell the sexes apart.
Female winged ants, which scientists sometimes refer to as virgin queens, are larger than their male counterparts. Like the males, they have two pairs of wings but a more robust body shape. After they've successfully mated, these female ants shed their wings and begin the process of establishing their new colony.
Male winged ants, on the other hand, are smaller than the worker ants of their same species and may have longer or straighter antennae when you compare them to their queens.
Why Do Ants Live in Colonies?
Ants are social insects that work together and share resources to survive. This makes a colony the perfect type of community for them, with each one consisting of thousands to millions of individual ants.
An ant colony is one of Mother Nature's most highly organized and efficient structures, with different types of ants having specialized roles. For example, queen ants are the egg-layers, while male ants exist simply to mate with their virgin queens.
While male and female ants ensure the colony's survival and growth, a separate category of ants, called the worker ants, is responsible for foraging, caring for the young, and building and maintaining the nest.
Flying Ants vs. Termites
It's easy to mistake flying ants and termites for each other, especially during their nuptial flight, since both insects have wings and tend to swarm around the same time of year. However, there are a few key differences between the two winged insects.
First, flying ants have a narrow waist, while termites have a more uniform, straight body and no obvious waist.
Second, the wings of flying ants are different sizes, with the front wings being larger than the hind wings. In contrast, termite wings are equal in length.
Additionally, ant antennae are bent, while termite antennae are straight.
The insects also have different diets and behaviors. Ants are first-rate forgers when it comes to finding food. You'll see them feasting on a variety of items. Meanwhile, termites primarily feed on wood, often causing structural damage to wooden structures.
How to Get Rid of Flying Ants: 3 Methods
Flying ants may be fascinating creatures, but they can still be a nuisance. If you find yourself dealing with a flying ant infestation, try addressing the issue with one or more of these strategies.
1. Homemade Repellents
If you don't want to use harsh chemicals, try a natural remedy to deter flying ants from making themselves at home in your living space. One method is to mix a solution of water and dish soap in a spray bottle. Spray this mixture directly on any flying ants you see to suffocate and immobilize them.
2. Peppermint Oil
Flying ants dislike the scent of peppermint oil, so you can create a repellent spray by diluting peppermint oil with water. Spray it in any areas where you've seen trails to get rid of the ants.
3. Professional Pest Control
If the infestation is really severe, you may want to skip trying other methods and go straight to contacting a pest control expert for help. A professional will likely have experience fighting other infestations of flying ants and can recommend a targeted treatment or other course of action.
How to Prevent Flying Ants
Stop flying ants from moving into your home in the first place by following these tips.
Monitor your property. First and foremost, regularly check for signs of ant activity, such as ant trails or discarded wings, so you can take action right away. Ideally, you'll avoid a full-blown infestation this way.
Seal your entry points. It might be obvious, but it's worth it to take the time to inspect your exterior walls and seal any cracks or gaps. Use caulk or weatherstripping to make sure no ants can find a way in.
Store your food properly. Flying ants are drawn to food sources, so keep your food in airtight containers so there's nothing to tempt them. Also, remove any crumbs and food residue that may attract ants. This means regularly cleaning your kitchen and dining areas, wiping down surfaces and sweeping the floors.
Trim your plants. If you're really worried about flying ants getting into your home, it might be worth it to trim back any branches or other vegetation that come into contact with your house. Otherwise, ant hordes can use these as bridges onto — and into — your building.
This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.
Original article: Flying Ants Aren't a Separate Species, But a Life Stage
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