The term ‘flying ant’ might seem like an oxymoron, but these ants are also known as swarmers or alates, and they usually can be seen at certain times of the year, mainly during spring and summer.
As part of their reproductive cycle, both female and male ants who have just reached sexual maturity develop wings so they can fly away from their colonies in the hope of finding new mates and creating new colonies.
So if you spot flying ants at home, it’s most likely that it is already an ant colony and has already been established.
Different species of ants have different flying ant characteristics. If you notice large numbers of flying ants in your garden, it can be helpful to observe their appearance, coloration, and behavior to identify the species and determine the best approach for pest control.
Outside in your garden, it may not be as big of a problem but seeing swarms in your home is never a good sign. Having these winged ants in your home in winter is especially problematic because they only develop wings when they are mature enough to breed.
If flying ants become a nuisance in your garden, there are several preventive measures and control methods you can employ. Read on to learn how to eliminate these problematic ants at home.
What are Flying Ants?
Flying ants are reproductive ants that belong to various ant species. During the mating season, usually in the summer, winged male and female ants take flight in what is known as the nuptial flight. This mid-air mating ritual allows them to mate and establish new colonies.
Like humans, ants come in different shapes and sizes and serve different purposes within a colony. You can find queens, workers, foragers, and swarmers inside a colony. Swarmers serve as the winged ants within a colony. All species of ants (such as carpenter ants and moisture ants) have swarmers within their colony.
Although it may not seem obvious, ants are related to wasps. Both belong to the order Hymenoptera (greek for membranous wing), and when mature ants grow wings, they resemble their wasp cousins much.
Ants are separated into strict groups, each having a different role. Regular worker ants are sterile females, and they don’t grow wings. Instead, flying ants are created by an ant colony queen laying special eggs, which develop into winged ants; these ants stay in the colony until they eventually emerge.
While their sudden presence can sometimes be overwhelming, it is important to recognize their significance in the natural balance of your garden.
The presence of flying ants in your garden indicates an established ant colony nearby. However, rather than viewing them as a problem to be eliminated, it’s important to consider the ecological benefits of flying ants.
Ants, including flying ants, play a crucial role in soil aeration and nutrient cycling, improving the overall health of your garden. They also act as natural predators, feeding on pests such as aphids, caterpillars, and flies, helping to keep their populations in check.
While it’s understandable to want to manage their presence, I encourage you to prioritize sustainable and organic methods. Focus on preventive measures such as good garden hygiene, removing potential food sources, and creating natural barriers.
Why Do These Ants Fly?
The reason these ants fly is for reproduction. Ordinarily, regular workers are sterile in an ant colony, and only the Queen can reproduce. However, flying ants can also reproduce; unlike most, they can be male and female.
When these ants swarm, it’s called nuptial flight; Female ants fly as high and as fast as they can while male ants chase them. The nuptial flight ensures that only the fittest and strongest make ants reach the females and mate. Ant swarmers mate in the air, and the males die shortly after. Meanwhile, female ants fly off to start their own nests and become queens.
When female ants establish a new nest, they shed their wings. To raise their first brood of offspring, they will reabsorb the muscles that powered their wings until their offspring are old enough to feed them. On the backs of larger ants, it is possible to see still the scars where a queen once had wings.
Flying Ant Day occurs when there are perfect conditions for nuptial flight, so every ant colony nearby will swarm on the same day.
A recent study found that the weather triggers the Swarming and that ants only flew on days when it was warm and clear and conditions had improved since the previous day. This can result in innumerable ants flying and making a nuisance of themselves.
Why Do Flying Ants Swarm?
Swarming flying ants indicate that the colony has been maturing and did not manifest recently.
Flying ants swarms is the mating process of these insects where the virgin queens and reproductive males from different colonies of the same species collide and reproduce while flying in the air.
In the insect world, swarms of insects such as termites, some bee species, and flying ants are referred to as nuptial flight and are the essential phase of the insect’s reproductive cycle.
The flying ant swarm occurs in large numbers to ensure the survival and reproduction of the species during warm seasons such as summer; it is believed that the swarm of flying ants occurs during summer (or sometimes spring) due to the humidity, temperature, and wind conditions that suit them perfectly.
Why Do Flying Ants Suddenly Appear?
If you notice a sudden influx of flying ants in your garden or home, it may indicate the presence of an established ant colony nearby.
The proximity of their nests influences the number of flying ants you encounter. These colonies can exist in various locations, such as in the ground, in trees, or within the structure of buildings.
The sudden emergence of flying ants is often associated with their mating season, which typically occurs in the summer months. During this time, male and female ants from established colonies take to the air in what is known as the nuptial flight.
This behavior is triggered by environmental cues such as temperature, humidity, and daylight hours. Warm, humid conditions are particularly favorable for their nuptial flight. A combination of high humidity, light winds, and optimal temperatures triggers the swarming behavior of flying ants.
Flying ants are also attracted to light sources, especially during their mating season. Artificial lights or bright indoor lights can draw them toward your home. This is why you may notice an increase in flying ants near windows, doors, or outdoor light fixtures.
Flying Ants vs Termites
Flying ants and termites share some similarities in their appearance, behavior, and even the time of year they are most commonly seen. However, there are differences between the two. Let’s look at them in. more detail:
While both flying ants and termites have wings, their body shapes are different. Flying ants have a pinched waist, with a distinctly segmented body. In contrast, termites have a more uniform, straight body without a distinct waist. Their bodies are often cylindrical or rectangular in shape.
Ants have elbowed or bent antennae, with a distinct joint between the segments. On the other hand, termites have straight antennae without any noticeable joints or bends.
Wing Length and Appearance
The wings of flying ants are typically longer than their bodies, extending beyond the abdomen. Their forewings and hindwings differ in size and shape, with the hindwings being smaller. In termites, the wings are typically of equal length and have a more uniform shape.
Habitat and Diet
Flying ants are typically found outdoors and are associated with established ant colonies nearby. They build nests in the soil, and their diet includes plant materials, other insects, and nectar.
Termites, on the other hand, are often found in damp or decaying wood, and they feed on cellulose found in wood and other plant materials. They can cause significant damage to wooden structures if left unchecked.
How to Prevent Flying Ants Inside Your Home
Flying ants frequently enter homes through open doors and windows. They might be a serious hazard to your property depending on the species.
Carpenter ants, for example, get their name from the damage they cause to wooden constructions by nesting inside pieces of unpainted and untreated wood.
Seal Entry Points
Flying carpenter ants gain easy access to your home through open doors and windows, as well as cracks in walls and roofs. So, inspect your home for any cracks, gaps, or openings that could serve as entry points for flying ants. Seal these areas using caulk or weatherstripping to create a physical barrier and prevent their access.
Store Food Properly
Flying ants are attracted to food sources. Ensure all food is stored securely in airtight containers, especially sweet or sugary items that are particularly appealing to ants. Wipe down countertops and clean up any spills promptly to eliminate potential food sources.
Keep Your Home Clean
Regularly clean your home, paying special attention to areas where food particles may accumulate, such as the kitchen and dining areas. Vacuuming and sweeping regularly can help remove any ant trails and discourage their presence.
Use Natural Deterrents
Certain natural substances act as deterrents to flying ants. Lemon or orange peels, cinnamon sticks, or cloves can be strategically placed near entry points or areas where you’ve noticed ant activity. The strong scents of these natural repellents can discourage ants from venturing further into your home.
Try Essential Oils
Ants dislike the scent of certain essential oils. Dilute peppermint oil, clove oil, or citrus oils (such as lemon or orange oil) with water and spray it in areas where you want to deter flying ants. Repeat this process regularly to maintain effectiveness.
Remove Standing Water
Flying ants are attracted to sources of moisture. Fix any leaks or areas where water accumulates, such as around sinks, faucets, or pipes. Ensure proper drainage in your home to minimize damp areas that may attract ants.
How to Get Rid of Flying Ants Effectively
Step 1: Identify the Insects
This task can be tricky because ants are often mistaken for termites. But there are a couple of key differences. In addition to their large front wings, flying ants can develop small hind wings, thin waists concave at the thorax, and bent antennae, with female winged ants appearing significantly larger than males. Flying ants’ bodies can be brown, black, or red.
Step 2: Find the Colony
To get rid of an ant colony, you’ll need to find it first. You can find it by following the trail of ants to their origin place; it’ll be obvious when you’ve located the colony, as it is a vast swarm of innumerable flying ants. Try to get rid of the colony as soon as you spot it. The most effective way to do so is by using boiling water, pouring it into the hole at the top of the colony, and repeating until all ants appear dead
Step 3: Seal Your Walls
These pests tend to enter homes and areas through wall cracks, so you’ll want to seal these to decrease the chances of the flying insects returning. You can seal any wall, window, floor, or baseboard cracks by using some caulk and a caulking gun.
Step 4: Vacuum Them Up
If visible swarms are in your home, the easiest way to remove them is with a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum any bugs you spot around your house, and replace the vacuum bag immediately after you’re done.
Step 5: Use Peppermint Oil
Peppermint’s scent is reminiscent of predators and works as a natural ant repellent. You can eliminate these flying insects by mixing ⅓ of liquid dish soap, ⅔ of water in a spray bottle, and 5-10 drops of peppermint oil into the mixture.
Shake well, and then spray any ants you come across. Soap dehydrates the insects, while peppermint oil suffocates them.
If you don’t have peppermint oil in hand, you can use different essential oils, also known to work as a repellent. You can use clove, tea tree, cinnamon, patchouli, and cedarwood oils.
Step 6: Encourage Beneficial Insects
Introduce beneficial insects like predatory ants, ladybugs, or lacewings into your garden. These natural predators feed on ants and can help control their population without the need for chemical interventions.
Step 7: Try Fly Traps
Also known as sticky fly traps, glue traps are another effective tool for eradicating flying ants. You can find these traps at your local hardware store and place them around your home (always following the package instructions) while focusing on the areas where you’ve noticed the ants congregate. Flying ants will fly directly into them and get stuck with the glue.
You can make your own flying trap by laying duct tape strips with the sticky side upward around your home and sprinkling a little bit of honey or sugar to attract them.
Step 8: Use Pesticides
Use a commercial pesticide instead if you don’t want to create insect repellent. Spray pesticides kill any visible flying (and non-flying) ants, but you’ll still have to do some work to deal with the ant infestation itself (See below). Be sure to be cautious when spraying pesticides indoors.
Step 9: Spritz Your Home
As an additional protective measure, you can spray your home with repellent every now and then. Boric acid is a great option; mix a tablespoon of boric acidic powders and a cup of water in a spray bottle. Shake well and spray general areas where you’ve spotted flying ant swarms in the past.
Step 10: Contact Professional Pest Control
The most effective solution against flying ants and other pests is enlisting the help of a professional pest control company to identify and control any insect problem. Flying ants is the definition of a start of a new colony. Getting rid of these insects will limit future infestation problems and eradicate existing ones.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.