Understanding the Diet of Flying Ants: A Rapid Overview

folder_openHymenoptera, Insecta
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Flying ants are fascinating creatures that can often be seen during warm weather, swarming as they carry out their mating process. You might be curious about their diet and how it affects their environment. Flying ants typically feed on a range of substances, such as plants, seeds, and decaying plant and animal material, making them a crucial part of the ecosystem they inhabit.

While these winged insects consume various kinds of food, some ants have specific preferences. For instance, certain ant species prey on other insects and help control populations of pests like termites. Another interesting dietary choice for some ants is honeydew – a sweet substance produced by aphids. These ants protect the aphids in exchange for the honeydew, displaying a unique interaction within the plant and insect world.

So, when you observe flying ants, it’s essential to remember that they play a significant role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Their varied diets not only help them thrive but also contribute to controlling pest populations and maintaining relations with other insects. Keep an eye out for these intriguing creatures as you explore nature, and appreciate the important part they play in our environment.

What Are Flying Ants?

Flying ants, also known as winged ants or alate ants, are simply ants with wings. They belong to various ant species and play a crucial role in the life cycle of an ant colony. You may have seen them during certain times of the year, usually when they swarm to mate.

The appearance of flying ants can vary based on the species. Some common characteristics include:

  • Antennae: Unlike termites, flying ants have bent or elbow-shaped antennae.
  • Color: The color of flying ants can range from blackish-brown to black.
  • Wings: Flying ants have two pairs of wings, with the front pair being longer than the hind pair. The wings are generally clear in color.

Here’s a comparison table to help you better understand the differences between flying ants and termites:

FeatureFlying AntsTermites
AntennaeBent/elbow-shapedStraight
ColorBlackish-brown to blackLight brown to white
WingsUnequal length, clearEqual length, milky-white

In an ant colony, flying ants have a specific purpose. They are usually the reproductive members of the colony, including the queen and winged males. When environmental conditions are suitable, the winged ants embark on a nuptial flight to mate and start new colonies.

So, when you spot a flying ant, remember that it’s a remarkable creature with an essential role in the life of an ant colony. Just as their wingless counterparts, flying ants help maintain natural balance and contribute to the ecosystem.

Life Cycle of Flying Ants

In the fascinating world of flying ants, understanding their life cycle is essential. Ants undergo a complete metamorphosis, which includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Initially, the life of an ant starts as a tiny, oval-shaped egg. These eggs are so small that they are about the size of a period at the end of a sentence. Not all eggs, however, develop into adults; some may be consumed by nestmates for additional nourishment.

As the eggs hatch, they transform into larvae. During this stage, the larvae depend on worker ants for constant care and feeding. With time, the larvae will enter the pupal stage and eventually emerge as adults—a critical turning point in their lives.

Now, as adults, flying ants participate in a unique event called the nuptial flight. This is when male and female ants leave their nests to mate. Male ants are attracted to queen ants, the reproductive females. Once the nuptial flight is over, the male ants die, while the mated queens search for a suitable location to start a new colony.

In conclusion, the life cycle of flying ants is an intricate process, beginning with an egg and eventually leading to the birth of new colonies through the nuptial flight. By taking the time to grasp these stages, you can better appreciate these fascinating insects and their role in our ecosystem.

Diet of Flying Ants

When it comes to flying ants, their diet can vary depending on the species. Many flying ants eat seeds and plants as part of their diet. For example, harvester ants feed on seeds and do not consume sugar or grease foods.

In addition to seeds and plants, flying ants may also consume sugar. Some ants, like the Argentine ant, rely on honeydew, a sweet substance produced by aphids, as a primary food source. These ants can even guard aphids against predators to ensure a constant supply of honeydew.

Here are some main food sources for flying ants:

  • Seeds
  • Plants
  • Honeydew (sugar)

As well as eating these primary food sources, flying ants can also prey on other insects for protein. Some species have a more diverse diet and eat fruits, honey, or even other insects. The harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/ants/food-web article explains that many species of ants prey on insects like termites or feed on the decaying plant and animal material.

In conclusion, flying ants have a varied diet that includes seeds, plants, sugar, and other insects. By understanding their specific food sources and preferences, we can better appreciate the role flying ants play in their ecosystem.

Flying Ants vs Termites

When you encounter winged insects around your home, it can often be difficult to tell whether they are flying ants or termites. To help you differentiate between the two, let’s examine their key characteristics.

Flying Ants:

  • Antennae: Elbowed
  • Body: Pinched or “wasp-waist”
  • Wings: Front pair shorter than rear pair

Termites:

  • Antennae: Straight
  • Body: Straight, no pinched waist
  • Wings: Front and rear pairs similar in size, shape, and length

A helpful way to identify these insects is by examining their wings. Termites have front and rear wings of the same length, while ants have shorter front wings than their rear wings. In addition, termites have straight antennae, while ants’ antennae are bent. Moreover, ants have pinched waists, while termites have straight bodies without any narrowing at the waist (source).

Both flying ants and termites are attracted to light and can be found near windows and doors. However, their behavior and diet differ significantly. While termites feed on wood, leading to potential damage to your home, flying ants do not eat wood. Instead, they tunnel through it to build their nests.

Knowing the difference is crucial because, unlike ants, termites can cause extensive structural damage to your home. Early identification of these insects can help you take appropriate action, such as contacting pest control professionals to prevent further damage.

Home Infestation and Damage

Flying ants can be a nuisance when they invade your home in search of food or a nesting site. They are particularly attracted to wooden structures and can cause significant damage if not addressed promptly.

  • Nests: Flying ants may establish nests in your home, often in wooden structures or near sources of moisture. They prefer damp, decaying wood, which can be an indication of water leaks in your house 1.
  • House infestation: During a swarm, flying ants may enter your home through cracks and openings in the foundation, windows, or doors. This can lead to infestation and potential damage to wooden structures 2.
  • Wooden structures: If you notice damaged wood, such as tiny holes or a hollow sound when tapped, this could be a sign of flying ants. They are known to excavate tunnels and galleries in wood to create nesting sites 3.
  • Structural damage: Flying ants can weaken your home’s wooden framework over time, potentially leading to costly repairs if not dealt with promptly. In severe infestations, flying ants may cause considerable structural damage to your house 4.
  • Water leaks: Leaks and excess moisture can attract flying ants as they provide an ideal environment for nesting. Check for water leaks in your home and fix them to deter ants from nesting indoors 5.
  • Foundation and cracks: Ensure your home is adequately sealed to prevent flying ants from entering. Seal any cracks or gaps in the foundation and around windows and doors 6.
  • Pest control: If you have a persistent infestation of flying ants, it’s essential to seek professional help. A pest control expert can identify the species and provide an appropriate treatment plan to control the infestation and minimize damage to your home 7.

To prevent flying ants from wreaking havoc in your home, be proactive in addressing any water leaks, sealing cracks and gaps, and contacting a pest control expert if you notice signs of infestation.

How to Get Rid of Flying Ants

Flying ants can be a nuisance, especially during their mating season. Here are a few methods to get rid of them:

Natural remedies:

  • Vinegar: Mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray it directly on the ants to kill them.
  • Essential oils: Mix a few drops of essential oils (like peppermint or eucalyptus) with water in a spray bottle. This can repel flying ants and create a refreshing scent.

Insecticides:

  • Borax: Mix borax with sugar to create a bait for the ants. They’ll carry it back to their colony, eventually killing them.
  • Insecticide spray: Purchase a reliable insecticide spray from a store and follow the instructions on the label.

Professional Help:
If the infestations persist, consider hiring an exterminator. They can provide an efficient solution but may come at a cost.

To prevent future infestations, watch out for the following conditions:

  • Rain: Flying ants are attracted to damp conditions, so keep your home dry.
  • Cracks and crevices: Seal any openings in your home to prevent ants from entering.

By using these methods, you can manage flying ant infestations and maintain a comfortable living space.

Preventing Flying Ant Infestations

To prevent flying ants from infesting your home, ensure you take proper sanitation and exclusion measures.

Here are a few surefire ways to keep ants at bay:

  • Seal entry points: Inspect your home for cracks and crevices, then seal them to block ant entryways.
  • Dust regularly: A clean environment is less appealing to ants and reduces the availability of food sources for these insects.
  • Use bait: Strategically place ant bait near potential entry points or where you have seen ants.
  • Eliminate ant trails: Clean trails with soapy water to remove the ants’ scent.

Taking preemptive measures can save you a lot of trouble in the long run:

  • Prevent access to food: Store your food in airtight containers and clean up crumbs or spills immediately.
  • Remove excess moisture: Fix leaks, drip, and water accumulation sites around your home to make the environment less appealing to ants.
  • Watch for eggs and frass: Inspect your home for signs of ant activity, such as egg locations and frass, removing them promptly.

By keeping a clean and well-maintained home, you can avoid providing a hospitable environment for flying ants and other pests.

Flying Ants in Nature

Flying ants play an important role in nature. As a part of their lifecycle, they help disperse their colonies to new locations. During their nuptial flight, the reproductive males and females take to the skies in search of a mate, before forming new colonies.

In their natural habitat, flying ants contribute to the overall health of plant life. They eat plants, seeds, and decaying plant materials. Additionally, they are known to prey on various insects, and sometimes even get protection from other creatures like butterflies.

Ant colonies often start forming in grassy yards, where the ample plant life and space can support their needs. The queen, who is the only reproductive female in the colony, is responsible for laying eggs and producing the offspring required to maintain and grow the colony.

Although flying ants don’t have a sting, they rely on their strong mandibles for defense. Some species, like harvester ants, build mounds in sandy soil or small pebbles, foraging on seeds in their surrounding habitat.

Animals like birds, spiders, and larger insects, often prey on flying ants for food. In turn, this helps control their populations in your yard and maintains balance within the ecosystem.

By understanding the role of flying ants in nature, you can appreciate how they benefit their surroundings and contribute to biodiversity. Remember, these insects are essential for a healthy ecosystem, even if they can sometimes be a nuisance around your home.

Health Risks and Safety

Flying ants, like other insects, may cause some health risks and safety concerns. Here are some aspects to consider:

Bites and Pain
If you get bitten by a flying ant, it might cause a little pain. However, the sensation is usually mild and fades quickly.

Pesticides
Using pesticides to control flying ants can be effective. But, be cautious when applying them. Mishandling pesticides may expose you and your family to harmful chemicals.

Pets and Pet Food
Flying ants might be attracted to your pet’s food. Store pet food securely and clean up any spills. This will help avoid attracting the insects to your home.

  • Health risks: Bites, although mild, can cause discomfort.
  • Safety concerns: Be careful when handling pesticides and keep pet food secure.

In conclusion, while flying ants can cause some minor issues, taking preventive measures and addressing any problems will help ensure the safety and well-being of you and your loved ones.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.umn.edu/insects-infest-homes/ants

  2. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/ants-and-termites-how-tell-difference

  3. https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-22/E-22.html

  4. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/ants-indoor-insects

  5. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/a-guide-to-house-invading-ants-and-their-control

  6. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/a-guide-to-house-invading-ants-and-their-control

  7. https://extension.umn.edu/insects-infest-homes/ants

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 we believe

Subject: Tiny black bugs with wings, seem to live on cat
Location: Toronto, Canada
December 21, 2012 12:11 am
Hi! First of all, thank you for your time. I promise that I have googled this EXTENSIVELY and haven’t been able to find an answer for weeks, so I’m turning to you for help.
I have noticed these bugs around wherever my cat is for the past four weeks. She also has ”flea dirt,” so I’m currently treating her for fleas. Only recently did I think these bugs could live ON her.
They are small – smaller than a centimeter – and black, with wings and antennas. Thinner than any fly I’ve seen. They mostly just crawl in circles but they can fly. Extremely easy to kill, and seem to be multiplying.
The google searches I’ve come up with say gnats, but the body seems very different.
What else? I shot a two-second video in case that would help. I promise this is not spam, the link will give you an option to watch in-browser (not download) http://cl.ly/0x342l1L362w
Any help you can give me would be amazing, and I’m forever grateful. Once I can figure out what the mystery bug is, I can take steps to eliminate it. It’s everywhere!
Signature: Thank you so much! Bailey

Flying Ant

Hi Bailey,
In our opinion, this appears to be a Flying Ant, though we cannot say for certain which species it represents.  Flying Ants are the reproductive Kings and Queens that will swarm and create new colonies.  The time of year is odd for ant swarms in Canada.  We believe their presence around your cat is coincidental.

Flying Ant

Letter 2 – Flying Ants

Bizzare Fly-type things in my room?
Just today I’ve been finding tons of little red fly style things hanging around my desk. What could they be and where could they be coming from? They are very pesky and I’d like to get rid of them. I’ve attached two somewhat clear pictures. Thanks.

You have Flying Ants. There must be a nearby nest and that is where the kings and queens are originating for their nuptial and only flight.

Letter 3 – Flying Ants

Ant? Termite? Freak of nature?
Can you tell me exactly what these are? They range from 3/8 inch to almost 1 inch.
Thank you,
Andre’

Hi Andr

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 – Mysterious “Ropes” of Flying Insects in North Carolina

Subject: Unknown Insect Behaviour
Location: Southern North Carolina
August 20, 2017 5:17 am
Friends of ours down in S. North Carolina had a strange phenomenon this weekend. A long writhing, living, rope of insects in mid-air. None of us have ever seen this before and are wondering A) what these flying insects are, and B) what causes this behavior (mating maybe)?
You guys are great, thanks!!
Signature: Cheers!

Mysterious “Rope” of Insects

This is surely a strange phenomenon.  Our initial guess is that they must be Gnats or Midges, and we are going to attempt to provide a more conclusive response for you.  We wish there was more detail in the close-up image.  We can’t even tell if these flying insects have two wings or four wings.  Flies in the order Diptera, the group that includes Gnats and Midges, have one pair of wings while other insects, like swarming Flying Ants, have two sets of wings.

Gnats or Midges????

P.S.  Were they dead or alive?  They appear dead.

They were alive.  I couldn’t get the video he has up on FB, but they are definitely moving.  They are joined somehow, very odd.  Want me to see if they’ll share the video?
MC

Mysterious “Rope” of Insects

Update from Eric Eaton:  August 25, 2017
Daniel:
No idea what the insects are.  I’d have to see specimens or at least microscope images.
Eric
author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America
http://bugeric.blogspot.com/

Update:  August 26, 2017
Finally!  I hope these don’t get kicked back due to size.  If so, I’ll throw them up on DropBox and send you the link.
Hope this helps,
Mike Coughlin

Dear Mike,
Thanks for sending in the videos.  Normally we don’t post videos to our site so we hope we did it correctly.  We believe these are Flying Ants, which is what they appear to be in the close-up video.  The wide angle video shows many swarming insects near the “rope” of insects.  Perhaps they have gotten ensnared in the sticky strands of a spider web.

Great, glad you got them!  I looked at it more closely yesterday as well. And I agree, they do appear to be flying ants.
The odd thing is the way that they’re all lined up – you wouldn’t expect to see them as densely aligned in that configuration.
Mother Nature!
Cheers,
M Coughlin

It is our suspicion that two completely unrelated phenomena have occurred simultaneously to create the “ropes” of insects.  There was a swarm of Flying Ants and there was a silken thread, either from a Spider dropping an anchor line for a web or from a Caterpillar that was using a silken thread to decend from a tree.  That silken thread then provided a landing strip for the ants.  We might be incorrect, but that is our speculation.

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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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Melinda Mccormick
    August 13, 2023 6:17 am

    I have these really small black bugs that love water. But they are coming in from the kitchen sink. Now all over my apartment are small black droplets. And we have found a bed bug or 2. I think I lived in the country for 58 years. I never had any such things. It’s mentality exhausting.

    Reply

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