Why do some ants fly? That is a common question. Ants are social insects and the colony is composed of one or more queens, depending on the species, and a lot of worker ants. The worker ants are either all the same size (monomorphic), come in two sizes (bimorphic) or have several sizes (polymorphic), again, depending on the species. There are also secondary reproductives who will take the place of a queen should she die. When a colony reaches the maximum amount of individuals that it can support, it has to expand. Male ants with wings are sent out in large numbers with a few female reproductives and they fly to a new area to start a new colony. Depending on the species, they may fly a few hundred feet away or as much as five miles. Some species fly high in the air and even occasionally land on the roofs of houses and sometimes come down the chimney in large numbers. When they eventually land, some of the males will mate with some females and burrow into the ground and start new colonies. All of the male reproductives will die in a short period of time. Flying ants are called alates.
Many species of ants will swarm about the same time every year or if their colonies get disturbed and they are forced to move. A few species don’t swarm to reproduce but start new colonies with a concept called budding. In budding a few female and male reproductives just wander away from the colony for a short distance and then mate and start a new colony. Pharaoh ants are known to do this which makes them a major pest in a building as they can spread throughout a structure by budding.
What do flying ants look like?
Termites are another social insect that swarms when the colony reaches a certain size and are often confused with flying ants. It is important to be able to tell the difference between ant and termite swarmers (alates), particularly if you see them in your home. Ants and termites both have segmented bodies consisting of a head, thorax and abdomen. In ants, the three segments are easily visible as the areas where the segments connect are very narrow. In termites, the three segments are all the same width and it is hard to see the connections. Termite swarmers are basically pencil shaped. Also, both ants and termite swarmers have four wings. In ants, the two front wings are much larger than the two rear wings. This is easily seen. In termites, all four wings are basically the same size, which is also easy to see.
It is recommended that if you have spider webs around your home on window sills, or corners anywhere that you leave them be. If you have termites swarming close to your home, some of the swarmers will get caught in the webs. It would then be a good idea to look at these webs periodically to see if any termites or flying ants are present in them. A good pest control company will certainly inspect any webs near your home for termite swarmers as well.