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What are Flying Ants?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 21, 2024
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Flying ants are not a separate species of ants. They are simply ants at a particular stage of life — specifically, the mating stage. Not every individual ant goes through this stage. Males who go through this stage die soon after mating. Most female flying ants also die soon after mating, but a few become queen ants, losing their wings and then laying eggs for the rest of their lives to populate their colonies.

Ant colonies consist of queen ants that lay eggs and potentially thousands of worker ants that are sterile, wingless females. In ant species that reproduce sexually, after the colony is well-established, the queen ant will produce a small number of winged females and many more males. This usually occurs once a year and at the same time as in nearby ant colonies, often after several days of heavy rains.

Mating

The flying ants form various colonies then swarm around certain places in the area, usually a place of slightly higher elevation, such as a hill, tree or roof. This is sometimes referred to as hilltopping. Mating typically takes place within a single day. The males then die, and the females disperse to establish colonies or, in some rare cases, to return to their original colonies.

Establishing Colonies

Only a very small percentage of female flying ants successfully establish colonies. Those that do survive can lay eggs throughout their lives — sometimes 20 years or more — after mating only once. The queen's only purpose is to lay eggs, and the worker ants that she produces perform duties such as building the nest and bringing her food.

Ants and Termites

Flying ants are sometimes mistaken for flying termites, and the opposite also is true. Termites, however, can be harmful to houses and other structures and are considered pests. Flying ants usually are more of a nuisance than harmful, although they might damage plants during their few days of infestation.

A person can tell the difference between a flying ant and a flying termite by looking closely at them. A flying ant has three distinct body parts, including a small thorax between its head and abdomen, but a flying termite has only a head and a main body. A flying ant also has bent antennae and two sizes of wing pairs. A termite's antennae are straight, and its wing pairs are the same size.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are flying ants?

Flying ants are the reproductive members of an ant colony, consisting of males and future queens. They are born with wings and take part in a nuptial flight, which is a mating ritual. After mating, males typically die, and fertilized females shed their wings to start new colonies. This phenomenon often leads to what's known as 'flying ant day' when large swarms are visible.

How can you distinguish between flying ants and termites?

Flying ants and termites can be differentiated by their physical characteristics. Flying ants have a pinched waist, bent antennae, and two pairs of wings of different sizes. In contrast, termites have a straight waist, straight antennae, and two pairs of wings of the same size. These distinctions are crucial for proper identification and management.

Why do ants grow wings and fly?

Ants grow wings and fly to reproduce and spread their genes. The flight enables them to mate and find new locations to establish colonies, thus ensuring the survival and expansion of their species. This reproductive phase is a natural part of the ant life cycle and usually occurs annually during specific seasons or environmental conditions.

When do flying ants appear?

Flying ants typically emerge during warm, humid periods, often in the summer months. Their appearance is part of a synchronized event known as the nuptial flight, which can happen several times a year depending on the species and climate. These flights can lead to temporary swarms that are sometimes mistaken for sudden ant infestations.

Are flying ants dangerous?

Flying ants are generally not dangerous. They do not bite or sting like some other ant species and are not aggressive. Their primary focus during the nuptial flight is reproduction, not human interaction. However, they can be a nuisance if they enter homes in large numbers, but they pose no significant threat to people or pets.

How do you deal with a flying ant infestation?

To deal with a flying ant infestation, it's important to seal entry points such as cracks and crevices in your home. Maintain cleanliness to avoid attracting ants with food sources. If the infestation is severe, you may need to use ant baits or call a professional pest control service to effectively manage the situation and prevent future occurrences.

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Discussion Comments

By anon996428 — On Aug 28, 2016

I'm in NW Lower Michigan, and the ants started swarming about a week ago. Seems to be peaking right now. Just took a walk through an open meadow and saw 30 to 40 ant hills along the path with winged ants bustling around, and the air is filled with them. Seems to be two different species swarming: A medium sized reddish brown variety, and a tiny black one as well.

By anon347228 — On Sep 05, 2013

I have lived in the high desert southwest (about 4000 feet) since 1995 and have had flying ants every temperate evening since. Others here say they used to but don't now. Perhaps my living on the side of a mountain has something to do with it? The anatomy match is a 100 percent probability of it being a flying ant. How large do they generally get?

By anon287381 — On Aug 25, 2012

I just sprayed a bunch around my mailbox and newspaper. At first I feared they were termites as the post under is cracking. Thanks to this article and a magnifying glass, I was able to ID them as ants. There were hundreds there, but the elevation note adds up as it was probably the best spot near the highway. I'm not sure of their eyesight, but the bright white mailbox may have helped.

By anon283891 — On Aug 07, 2012

Flying ants come in when the lights are on. I have to live in darkness. How can I get rid of them? I am in Miami.

By anon279098 — On Jul 11, 2012

@post 8: Is it only at night that they would be there -- when the light is on.

By anon264773 — On Apr 29, 2012

@anon15377: In my experience, if you are seeing a swarm at the window and the swarm numbers in the hundreds, you have termites. It may be possible that these are ants, but my bet is its termites. More than likely they are already hard at work on your house and are coming out of the walls.

If you live on a concrete foundation, they actually live under the concrete and bore up to the house and start eating. The flying ones you are seeing are the new males trying to leave your house to establish a new nest. Your poor neighbors! You definitely need to get professional help. Check Angie's list.

By anon153568 — On Feb 17, 2011

I live in Michigan. I just noticed within the past three weeks an insect which looks like a flying ant or termite inside my home. It is pinched at the waist and long antenna. I had a tree cut down about five years ago and just the bottom stump remain, which look like termites would reside. Do I need to call out a professional?

By anon41849 — On Aug 17, 2009

I live on the prairie in Western Canada. This is the second year I have found flying ants coming from my flower beds in a swarm. I don't care to use poison as my cats, dogs and wild birds frequently are in and out of the flower beds. I poured pickling vinegar around the rocks where the nests holes are. I then poured boiling water into the holes and am hoping that will work. I know I need to get the queen and eggs however that is going to require lifting the rocks and digging. I've tried the borax trick in the past but I tend to think ants are a creature you will never get rid of.

By anon36890 — On Jul 15, 2009

After several days of rain in Florida our lanai had a swarm of flying ants that bit 4 of the people swimming and sunning on the patio. Is it common for ants to bite humans during this swarming stage?

By anon15377 — On Jul 09, 2008

In a finished room over our garage, flying ants are gathering by the window, inside, on a daily basis. Probably close to a hundred in the past 3-4 days. I suspect there's a nest in the wall, and they're entering the house through some crack I haven't yet found. The ants just seem to die, but I'm afraid this is a pretty big nest. Any advice on where they might be coming from and why they're entering the house?

By mhaden — On May 30, 2008

i always suspected that "flying ants" were really termites. it seems like i always see a couple sometime during the year, springtime i think. i will keep an eye out and examine them more closely to determine if it is in fact a flying ant or a termite. i also wonder, if you see one or two in your house, does that mean you have an infestation somewhere in your house?

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