Flying Ant: All You Need to Know Uncovered

folder_openHymenoptera, Insecta
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Flying ants are fascinating creatures that often intrigue people due to their unique behaviors and appearance. These insects are generally not dangerous, but they can still be an interesting subject of study for both amateur and professional entomologists. In this article, we will delve into the world of flying ants and provide everything you need to know about these captivating insects.

These winged insects are actually reproductive members of various ant species, taking to the skies during their mating season. Observing flying ants is a great opportunity for nature lovers, as their swarms can be an impressive sight. But fear not, as these ants are unlikely to cause harm or infest your home.

Some distinguishing features of ants are:

  • Elbowed antennae
  • Front wings longer than hind wings
  • Pinched waist, also known as petiole
  • Body color ranging from black, brown to reddish

On the other hand, termites exhibit:

  • Straight antennae
  • Equal wing size
  • Broad waist

For a more in-depth understanding, we will now discuss the life cycle, common misconceptions, and ways to identify flying ants. So, stay tuned as we explore all there is to know about these fascinating creatures.

Understanding Flying Ants

Species and Characteristics

There are many species of flying ants, which are ants with wings. Some common features include:

  • Elbowed antennae
  • Narrow waists
  • Wings during mating season

Let’s compare two types of ants in a table:

CharacteristicFlying AntRegular Ant
AntennaeElbowedElbowed
WaistNarrow (pinched)Narrow (pinched)
WingsPresent (in season)Absent

Life Cycle

The life cycle of flying ants is quite fascinating. Here is a brief overview:

  1. Egg
  2. Larvae
  3. Pupa
  4. Adult

Flying ants have a relatively short period of mating, which occurs during their nuptial flight.

Nuptial Flight

The nuptial flight is a key event in the life of a flying ant. This is when:

  • Winged males and queens fly into the air
  • Mating occurs on the wing
  • Mated queens land and shed their wings
  • A new colony forms after the queen digs a nest

Flying Ants vs Termites

Physical Differences

Flying ants and termites may seem similar, but they have distinct physical characteristics. Here are some features to help identify each insect:

  • Antennae: Flying ants have bent or “elbowed” antennae, while termites have straight antennae.
  • Wings: Both insects have two sets of wings, but they differ in length and appearance. Flying ants have front wings that are longer than their hind wings, while termites have wings of equal length. Additionally, ant wings are clear, while termite wings are milky-colored and twice as long as their body.
  • Body Shape: Flying ants have a pinched or “wasp-like” waist, while termites have a straighter body with no waist.

Behavioral Differences

Flying ants and termites also exhibit different behaviors:

  • Swarming Time: Ants swarm during spring and summer, while termites can swarm in various seasons depending on their species.
  • Habitat: Flying ants prefer to nest in wood that is damp and decaying, whereas termites typically consume cellulose materials in wood, causing structural damage to homes.

To help you further differentiate between flying ants and termites, here’s a comparison table:

FeatureFlying AntsTermites
AntennaeBent/ElbowedStraight
WingsUnequal length, clearEqual length, milky-colored
Body ShapePinched waistNo waist
Swarming TimeSpring, summerVaries by species
HabitatDamp, decaying woodCellulose materials in wood

In conclusion, knowing the physical and behavioral differences between flying ants and termites is essential for proper identification and control measures in case of infestations.

Attracting Factors and Infestations

Signs of Infestation

Flying ants, also known as alates, are a crucial part of an ant colony’s life cycle. To identify an ant infestation around your home, look for the following signs:

  • Winged ants gathered near windows or doors
  • Ants trailing inside or outside the house
  • Finding nests, usually made of soil

Causes of Infestation

Understanding the causes of flying ant infestations is key to preventing them in the future. Some common causes include:

  • Access to food sources, such as crumbs or spills
  • Moisture or water leaks that attract the ants
  • Unsealed windows and doors, which can act as entry points for insects
Attracting FactorExamples
Food SourceCrumbs, spills, pet food
Water SourceLeaky pipes, damp areas
Entry PointUnsealed windows, gaps around doors

Preventing Infestations

To keep flying ants at bay, consider implementing these preventative measures:

  • Seal windows and doors
  • Clean up food sources
  • Repair water leaks
  • Remove or reduce moisture in damp areas

Pros of these methods:

  • Reduces the chances of infestation
  • Helps maintain a clean and healthy living environment

Cons of these methods:

  • May require extra effort and time for maintenance tasks
  • May incur costs for repairs and sealing

Implementing these measures can make a significant difference in keeping flying ants and other insects from invading your home. Attracting factors and infestations can be efficiently managed with a proactive approach and regular maintenance.

Dealing with Flying Ants

Natural Remedies

Flying ants can be a nuisance, especially during their mating season when swarms of winged ants are common. To keep them at bay, try natural remedies:

  • Essential oils: Mix a few drops of peppermint oil with water in a spray bottle, and spray it around areas where you’ve spotted ant trails.
  • Vinegar: A mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar can help repel ants. Spray on surfaces where ants are present.
  • Bright light: Some ants are attracted to decaying wood and may move away if you shed bright light on their nesting area.

Chemical Solutions

If natural remedies don’t work, there are chemical solutions to help control infestations:

  • Ant bait: Use ant bait containing boric acid and sugar to lure ants in and eliminate them. Be cautious when using ant bait around pets and children.
  • Insecticide spray: Apply over infested areas and ant trails to exterminate ants on contact. Ensure proper ventilation and follow manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Borax: This chemical substance can dehydrate and kill ants. Mix borax with sugar to create a DIY ant bait.

Pros:

  • Effective in controlling ant populations
  • Wide range of products available

Cons:

  • May pose risks to humans, pets, or the environment
  • Can be costly

Professional Help

If the infestation persists and causes structural damage or becomes a health hazard, consider seeking professional help:

  • Pest control companies: Hire a licensed pest control company to assess the situation and apply appropriate treatment methods.
  • Entomologist: Consult with an expert in insect behavior to better understand the specifics of your ant issues and receive tailored advice.
MethodProsCons
Natural RemediesEnvironmentally-friendly, low-costMay not be as effective as chemical solutions
Chemical SolutionsPotent and effectiveMay pose risks to humans, pets, environment
Professional HelpComprehensive assessment and treatmentCan be expensive and time-consuming

Keep in mind that some flying ants, like fire ants, can be quite aggressive and may bite or sting. It’s essential to take appropriate measures to address the situation, whether through natural remedies, chemical solutions, or professional help. By being proactive in dealing with flying ants, you can prevent them from becoming a more severe and damaging problem.

Interesting Facts about Flying Ants

Flying Ant Day

  • Flying Ant Day is an annual event where millions of flying ants emerge from their nests to mate and start new colonies. This usually happens in the summer months, when the weather is warm and humid enough for the ants to take flight.
  • This phenomenon occurs when the mature queens and male drones leave their nests, searching for mates to form new colonies. Once they mate, the queen will dig a burrow and lay her eggs, marking the beginning of a new ant colony.

Unique Behaviors

  • Flying ants have some very interesting behaviors that set them apart from other ant species. For example, they use the sunlight as a navigation tool during their nuptial flights, to ensure greater chances of success in finding mates.
  • Most ant species have wingless workers, but during the mating season, both the queen and male ants develop wings for flight. After mating, the males lose their wings and eventually die, while the fertile queen removes her wings and starts laying eggs in the new colony.

Harmless nature

  • Although flying ants might seem intimidating, they are generally harmless to humans and pose no significant threat to our health or safety. Their primary focus during this time is finding a mate and establishing a new colony, making them more of a fascinating spectacle than a cause for concern.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Flying Ant, but which one???

Katydid wasp party?
August 9, 2009
When I went out onto our deck this morning, I was greeted by a swarm of these small black insects. They seem to be congregating around our grill. After determining they didn’t seem to be intent on stinging us, my wife and I pulled out the flyswatters and began clearing the area. Yeah, this probably qualifies as unnecessary carnage, but there was no way we could enjoy our deck with 50 or so of them buzzing about.
From my searching, I think it’s a katydid wasp. There doesn’t seem to be much information about them other than lots of pictures. Should I be looking for a nest nearby?
John
Marion, IA

Flying Ant, we presume
Male Flying Ant

Hi John
This is not a Katydid Wasp.  We believe it is a reproductive Flying Ant, but we need assistance as to the family, genus and or species.  We will solicit assistance in this matter.  The jury is still out regarding Unnecessary Carnage as there may have been a justifiable reason to remove this nuptial swarm.  We have been getting so much heat lately in the Unnecessary Carnage arena that we don’t want to be hasty in this situation.

Flying Ant:  Justifiable death or not???
Flying Ant: Justifiable death or not???

Update from Eric Eaton
You’re welcome.
Yes, the winged ant is a male, subfamily Formicinae….looks like genus Formica.  What the person describes is swarming behavior (aka “nuptial flight”) that was probably a “one night only” event.
Eric

Thanks Eric,
We will link to the genus Formica on BugGuide.  Ants perform a vital service with regards to the balance of nature, and native ants are often compromised by the introduction of exotic species that throw things out of balance, like the introduction of Argentine Sugar Ants in many places of the world.  We don’t believe these mating ants constituted a threat, and if killing them could have been avoided by sweeping them out of the way, or by some other means, that was probably a better alternative to swatting.

Unnecessary Carnage Comment
August 9, 2009
RE: unnecessary carnage
I love your site, and visit it several times a day. Many thanks for posting such lovely images and so much information (you helped me ID a one-eyed Sphinx moth here in Seattle)! I also love the fact that you tell folks when they have committed an act of unnecessary carnage, but sadly, you have been very hesitant to do so lately… Please don’t let one or two unhinged people keep you from providing a vital service- letting humans know that insects are innocent until proven guilty!
Leah S.

Letter 2 – Flying Ant from Thailand

Is it a male or a queen ant?
August 19, 2009
Found on my patio crawling on leaf of silver morning glory. Now I know why suddenly there are ants in the house after 3 years. Best educated guess is that they came from soil and/or plants I purchased. Worker ants are dark brown or black with the same color and light yellow or white stripes on the stomach.
Pong A.
Bangkok, Thailand

Flying Ant from Thailand
Flying Ant from Thailand

Dear Pong,
This Flying Ant is one of the reproductive kings or queens as worker ants do not possess wings.  We haven’t much knowledge on Asian species but perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide you with an exact identification.
We are going to take a guess that this might be a reproductive Weaver Ant or Green Ant in the genus Oecophylla.  We did find a photo that seems to support that guess. Wikipedia also has an extensive pop culture page on the Green Ants of Thailand.

Letter 3 – Male Velvet Ant from Baja California, Mexico is male Velvet Ant

Ant/Wasp/Fly hybrid in Baja
June 5, 2010
We got invaded by these bugs a couple weeks ago. They were crazy and pesky keeping us up at night. They are reddish like an ant, with a striped abdomen like a wasp, a face like an ant and wings like a fly. Big beady eyes and I’m pretty sure they had pincher mouths. They also scream!!!! They’re relatively small, similar to a big flying ant.
Baja Bug Girl
San Felipe, Baja California

Male Velvet Ant

Dear Baja Bug Girl,
Though we are confident that this is a Flying Ant, we do not feel qualified to attempt a species identification.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide that information.

Correction
June 7, 2010
We received a comment that this is a male Velvet Ant, a species of Wasp, and not an ant as we originally suspected.

Letter 4 – Flying Ants

My bugs
These tiny little bugs swarmed our kitchen a few days ago. They literally covered the counter top and we have no idea where they came from. One minute there was nothing, and then like 10 minutes later they were crawling all over the counter and the floor and flying around the light. There were hundreds of them. They sort of look like fruit flies but they seem bigger and I’ve never seen that many fruit flies together before. Maybe they all just hatched at the same time or something. Let me know what you think.
Thanks
Ayron

Hi Ayron,
You have flying ants. These are the reproductive queens and kings. They swarm and mate in the air, then form new colonies. You must have an ant nest that has an egress into your kitchen.

Letter 5 – Night Flying Wasp from Chile

Subject: night fliers!
Location: Central Chile, Coastal Mountains (Matorral, rural)
January 24, 2014 6:15 am
Hi bugman,
I have been perusing your site for years trying to identify this creature that enjoys flying into my eyes at night. I rarely see them during the day but as soon as the sun goes down, they begin appearing on my walls and on the outsides of my windows (so I don’t think they live inside, I think they just come inside at some point during the day). When I go to bed and read, they are attracted to the light and fly into my face, causing me to nickname them “jerks.” They do not sting or bite, just annoy. They are only around during the summer– after the first frost they disappear and I rejoice!
Finally I have an internet connection fast enough to send a picture and I found one in the kitchen this morning (I left the light on in there last night in hopes of attracting them there instead of into my bedroom). This guy is about 1cm in length but I have seen various sizes from just a couple of mm up to about 1.5 cm. As much as I hate them, I can’t bring myself to kill things, so this guy was rehomed to the outside. But I’d love to know what they are so I can figure out how to … well, incentivize visiting some other area at night!
Signature: Stefanie

Nocturnal Wasp
Nocturnal Wasp

Hi Stefanie,
This nocturnal Hymenopteran is some species of Wasp.  We will post your image, attempt an identification and enlist the assistance of our readership.  Congratulations on your internet upgrade.

Thanks!! I thought it might be a non-stinging wasp but I’m not exactly a pro at this so I wasn’t sure. I had never seen a non-stinging wasp before. It’s astounding the number of curious things you find floating around in the night!

Hi again Stefanie,
Male wasps do not sting.  Please see Eric Eaton’s response.

Eric Eaton Responds
Daniel:
I’m on my way out the door, but….It is a male wasp, something related to velvet ants; but the taxonomy of all those related families is so complex, based on such minute characters, that I’m not sure anybody could tell you anything more from images alone.  One really needs to put the specimen under a microscope.
Eric

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Flying Ant

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Ron Hennessey
    June 6, 2010 10:39 pm

    The insect is a male sphaeropthalmine mutillid wasp. The felt line is just barely visible on the notum of the second abdominal segment (the gaster).

    Reply
  • I can’t decide whether this is a male velvet ant or just a flying ant, it has characteristics of both(at least the ones I’m dealing with do) but here’s some things to know about these guys.

    Strictly nocturnal

    Excruciating sting if handled

    AGGRESSIVE little bastards. These creatures invade wasp nests and beehives to lay their eggs

    Indestructible! Books are too light to do anymore than make them mad. Bug spray stops them from flying for a few seconds. once you gotten them motionless burn them they come back to life!

    Reply
  • miranda stephens
    April 25, 2014 5:48 am

    Does anyone know if these are found in texas? It looks alot like the one i killed in my room a few days ago thinking it was a stinging bee.

    Reply
  • I have these in my kitchen! How do you get rid to them?

    Reply
  • If I send a pic can you identify this flying ant?

    Reply

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