Yesterday, the Met Office’s radar recorded such a large and dense cloud of flying ants off the southern coast of Britain that it registered as a rain storm.
The flying ants we see in Britain are almost always the sexually mature queens and males of the common black ant, Lasius niger.
An ant colony can only expand so much; at some point it will begin to run out of resources. Then, a new queen will leave to begin a new colony. She needs to meet and mate with a male from a different colony and find a new area in which to start building her nest. Growing wings and flying enables her to do this; the winged males that leave with her are looking for queens from another nest.
The mass swarming of millions of winged common black ants from hundreds of different nests, triggered probably by a combination of warmth and humidity, is the way the species ensures its genetic health by cross-fertilisation.
The swarming is annual and usually last just a few days in early to mid July each year, coinciding with hot and humid weather. Winged ants appear at different times around the country and local weather conditions are a critical factor for the coordination of swarming activity.
We are not sure if the park’s common black ants swarmed yesterday, but if they did and you have pictures, please send them to us; we would love to see them.