Ants are a common pest found in and around homes. In most cases they do not bother humans. Yet their colonies fill the ground underneath us. As many ants that fill our yards, there are many different types of ants. If you’ve seen a flying ant, you may ask what ants have wings? Ants with wings are usually reproductives. These are queens and males that are ready to start a new colony.
These reproductives are called alates. They have wings for the purpose of their nuptial flight, or swarm. When these ants hit maturity, they leave the colony and swarm. This usually happens on a warm day in late spring early summer, every year. These swarmers, usually male and female, stay together to protect against predators.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Usually, the male will fly first. This is because they tend to be smaller and lighter. Once both ants get off the ground, the male will emit a pheromone that will attract the female. They will find a place to mate that will usually serve as the location of the future colony. Once the ants mate, the male will die, and the wings the queen had will fall off. Then the queen starts the process of starting a new colony.
These reproductives are the last generation of a very successful colony. Few colonies get to this point, and fewer still reproductives live long enough to reproduce. Many predators feed on the alates during swarming. If the ants mate in a place that is not conducive to building a colony, the colony may fail. A host of things can happen to deter the process. But enough reproductives are successful to continue the repopulation of ants.
Nature always finds a way. In this case, ants need to coordinate their swarming efforts. If all the colonies of ants in a given area swarm at the same time, it makes it more likely that unrelated ants will mate. This causes more diversity in the gene pool, making survival more likely. To do this, alates will take cues from weather conditions, lighting, and the length of days. This also causes the swarms to be larger, which in turn means more protection against predators.
Ants are not the only swarmers out there. Termites also have winged reproductives that use the same tactics to diversify their gene pool. These wood eating insects may look much like ants, but they are very different. Termites have a body that is equal width its entire length. Ants have three distinct body sections, with tiny “waists” between them. Both insects have four wings. Termites wings are much longer than its body and are all four the same length. Ant wings are more proportionate to its body length and the hind wings are shorter than the fore wings. Ants are more of a dark red in color, but termites are a yellow translucent.
DO ALL REPRODUCTIVES HAVE WINGS?
Do all reproductives have wings? In a short answer, no. Different species of ants use different methods of reproducing. Instead of using winged alates, many species of ants use a process known as budding. This means that an ant colony has many queens. When a queen is ready to create a new colony, it takes a few ants with her, and goes and finds a new place to build a new colony. Ant species that use budding as their method of reproducing colonies usually don’t have winged reproductives. Of course, there are exceptions. The odorous house ant can use either winged reproductives or budding to create new colonies. Every rule has its exception.
CAN FLYING ANTS BITE?
When someone sees a huge swarm of flying ants, the sight can be overwhelming. But the truth is that swarming ants are mostly harmless. The males will die after mating, and the females will simply leave and find a spot to create a new colony. These ants have one thing on their mind: reproduction. And most swarms last a few hours at most.