London (change)
Today 9°C / 4°C
Tomorrow 10°C / 9°C

An orgy of ants


by Richard Jones

The nuptial flight of ants is one of those phenomena that, if you are inside it, is really very spectacular.


Richard JonesThe warm humid evenings of late July and early August have brought out the flying ants again. These are the very common black pavement ant, Lasius niger. A few years ago we had a nest in one of our large plant pots and it was amazing to see the constant stream of large winged queens (and the slightly smaller males) take to the air for their mating flight. Up above, the swifts were having a bountiful harvest. 

I have only noticed the wingless queens this year, after they land and shed their wings. There were a few crawling about on the pavements of East Dulwich, but nothing spectacular. Elsewhere in Britain, it seems their sudden appearance has been more dramatic. I was telephoned by the Guardian because of them. I'm not sure how they got hold of the story, but their report suggests they were alerted by activity on Twitter

The nuptial flight of ants is one of those phenomena that, if you are inside it, is really very spectacular. On Saturday 1 June 2002 we drove through northern France from Calais to Lisieux and it was like driving through grey hail. The windscreen wash and wipers were on almost all the way and the car was speckled all over when we arrived. It was a warm muggy day and that night we were rewarded with a spectacular lightning show that lit up the sky to the north as a raging thunderstorm swept up the English Channel. It bucketed down that night. 

Two days later we sat on the beach at Trouville sur Mer and played in the sand. It took a few minutes, but it soon dawned on me that what I first thought were dark lines of silt washed along the high water mark were actually strand lines of dead insects. I listed over 100 species, including many beetles, but the vast majority were the winged male and female black ants. 

I tried to do a rough estimate of numbers. Each of five or six bands contained about 1000 ants for each 10cm; so that's over 50,000 per metre, extending at least 1km  in each direction. My conservative estimate gives 100 million insects in our short stretch of beach alone. Now that is a truly spectacular orgy.



Discuss this blog post

Talkback: An orgy of ants
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 13/08/2009 at 07:39

I was quite concerned about the amount of black ants. As i work in quite a lot of private gardens i did notice that from weeding paths to just general digging there was always a nest. It is the worst i have ever seen.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/08/2009 at 21:57

What can I do for next year about my potatoes,this year I planted maris piper and wilja's and have just dug them up and they are full of slug holes,beautiful lovely big spuds too. would it be an idea to lime next year or grow a different variety. I even have ducks on the garden who eat slugs !

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:39

Yes, I have a childhood memory of swifts and ants standing in my parents garden. The houses and gardens were built on the top of a ridge so away below were fields and meadow. Suddenly an ants nest went 'critical' and out swarmed all these flying ants. The swifts were not waiting for them to gain height but fell out of the sky and swooped around me at high speed. All the same the hunter becomes prey too, as there was a picture in the local paper recently of a hobby catching a swift! http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/search/4460213.Stunning_photos_show_bird_of_prey_in_action/

Mary6 24/04/2012 at 10:13

J.E.S I always sprinkle a few slug pellets in my potato trench when planting.  Seems to do the trick.