The day was hot, muggy and more than slightly antsy
What’s the matter—got ants in your pants?
You probably weren’t the only one today (July 12).
For at least the second time in three weeks, the warm and humid late afternoon air of the Fairview neighbourhood was literally teeming with flying ants.
This is an annual summer event going back at least six years and, for me at least, it’s no bother. I actually find it entertaining rather than annoying.
Happy Flying Ant Day!
The flying ants are brown in colour and can be of a decent size—nearly up to the length of a finger joint with their wings folded straight back. And yes, they fly into your face and they get in your hair and generally crawl all over you (and over everything else). But they’re utterly harmless. They’re also comically clueless. Whether in the air or on a surface, they meander around as slow as you please, with no apparent purpose or destination.
The flying ants—mostly large newborn queens—actually do have a purpose—to find a small male ant to mate with, in order to give birth to a new ant colony. The queens don’t appear to search so much as just saturate an area so that male ants can’t miss them.
And the whole thing only seems to last for two hours at most.
According to the Internet, the annual aerial ant-haze is properly called the nuptial flight and informally it’s known (at least in the UK) as “Flying Ant Day”. The behaviour is believed to be triggered entirely by meteorological conditions—a specific combination of high temperature, humidity and low wind speed.
Thick summer swarms of queen ants do not appear to be all that uncommon in the UK and Australia, where, according to the Independent, they have actually caused the suspension of golf tournaments and cricket matches.
In fact, the increasing magnitude of “flying ant day” led to the British Royal Society of Biology to begin conducting an flying ant survey in 2012.
Closer to home, it was apparently once considered unusual here in Vancouver to see large numbers of queen ants swarming at the same time.
As recently as last year, News 1130 still treated it as something of an exceptional event, quoting an academic to the effect that normally, individual ant colonies launched their queens in small, unnoticeable numbers, according to nearby weather cues.
The kind of huge swarm that we experienced today supposedly requires an especially “dramatic weather event”, in order to cause all the female queens from all the ant colonies across a very large area to simultaneously take wing.
My friend the Green Guy tells me that today he saw one queen actually shed her wings, which is what happens after a successful mating.
Anyway, now that queen ants have been seen to swarm in Vancouver at least once every summer, for at least the last six years, we should probably recalibrate our definition of what constitutes a “dramatic weather event”. Click the images to enlarge them.