Residents Throughout Pennsylvania Called Their Local Police Department In Response To Terrifying Swarms Of Flying Ants Emerging In And Around Homes
Late summer evenings can be some of the most enjoyable, with dark blue skies, temperatures that are not too hot or too cold, but just right, and the intermittent cool breeze that hints at the coming autumn. Unfortunately, no matter how beautiful these evenings may be, they can be instantly ruined by the horrifying sight of a swarming mass of flying ants. Recently, residents from all over Pennsylvania were calling their local police departments on one of these nights to report sightings of massive black swarms of insects. They were rather concerned to put it mildly.
It might seem odd that these massive swarms of insects were made up of flying ants, since most ants we encounter are wingless. These swarms are actually made up of the same wingless ant species that we are used to seeing everyday both outside and inside our homes. According to Emilie Swackhamer, a horticulture educator with the Montgomery County office of Pennsylvania State University’s environmental extension program, regular wingless ants will grow wings and swarm in this manner when a colony is trying to divide. As an ant colony grows and gains strength, particularly during the summer months, some of the ants will grow wings to prepare for splitting off from the colony.
This happens during specific times of the year, generally early spring or late summer, when a new potential queen takes flight and leaves the colony to start a new one. The males that have developed wings will follow the queen-in-waiting in a frenzied mass, a crazy chase known as the “nuptial flight.” The queen makes her suitors chase her like madmen in order to choose only the fittest males for her colony. The lucky man ants that manage to catch up to her get the honor of mating with the queen before quickly dying after the act is finished. After this insane mating fly-athon, the queen lands and lays her eggs in the soil, tearing off her wings in the process. An entire new colony will then form from those eggs, with its new queen reigning anywhere from one to 15 years.
The swarms are actually made up of ants from a number of different colonies all participating in this mating ritual together. The large numbers protect them from predators and also give the male ants a better chance of finding a female to mate with, ideally one that is not from the same nest. The large majority of these flying ants will not survive the ordeal, and so are sort of hedging their bets to get a chance to mate and pass on their genes by meeting in these huge swarms. It’s a pretty dramatic display, with the majority of the participants ending up dead by the end of it. While they look terrifying, these swarms are harmless to humans and all we really have to do is vacuum up all the dead bodies once they finish.
Have you ever seen a giant swarm of flying ants? What did you think it was at first?
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