In Brief

Flying ants: Why are there winged insects everywhere?

Sudden swarms may be annoying, but they have a valuable role to play in our ecosystem

Warm temperatures and humid conditions have triggered the arrival of swarms of flying ants across the country this week.

Players at Wimbledon yesterday were seen swatting the winged insects away - with Britain's Johanna Konta saying she thought she'd even swallowed some, reports The Sun.

It is all part of the ants' mating ritual, something Professor Adam Hart of the University of Gloucestershire describes as "one of the most interesting nationwide wildlife events we have here in the UK".

What happens and why?

Swarms of common black ants grow wings and leave their colonies to look for mates during the summer months. The insects fly around in search of their ideal partner before mating mid-flight. "With the male's only purpose being this fertilisation, his genitalia gruesomely explodes in the female and he quickly dies after mating," says The Independent.

The queen ant, however, can live up to 15 years. After mating, she loses her wings and quickly burrows into the soil to start her new colony.

When does it happen?

The timing of the mating ritual depends on a number of factors. Ants choose a day by sensing temperature, humidity and day length, Dr Mark Downs from the Society of Biology told the BBC. The insects prefer warm, humid conditions as it's easier for them to fly in the warmth and humidity makes the ground softer for the queens to burrow into. Scientists are still unsure how the ants are able to synchronise their flights, but they suspect the insects give off a strong smell as a signal.

Despite being dubbed flying ant day, researchers have found that the mating ritual can actually last over a month. It typically falls towards the end of July and tends to occur when a spell of wet weather is followed closely by hot, humid weather.

While many people bemoan the sudden swarms, ants play a crucial role in our ecosystem, pollinating flowers, improving the soil and feeding on pests.

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