Last evening I was at the computer, clicking away and chasing links when I realised it was well after 7 pm and heading into twilight. The chooks were still in their outdoor ‘playground’ and needed to be shooed into their secure run and locked in for the night.
I dropped the mouse and went outside, only to be hit in the face by a horde of flying things. As soon as I saw the carpet of insect wings and staggering ants on the deck I knew what was happening. It was Nuptial Flight Night.
The house is surrounded by ant nests. I don’t know which species, but I think they’re sugar ants. They move enormous amounts of sand, bringing it up from below and making neat little volcanic cones of sand grains around each hole. Yet I rarely ever see any ants around the holes. I tolerate them because they don’t do any real harm; they don’t bite if you do encounter them and don’t come into the house. And ants predate termites. I reckon that as long as there are ants near the house there won’t be any termites.
But once a year they appear in droves just around dusk. This is the time of the annual nuptial flight. It’s synchronised and happens all over the property at the same time with this species and probably all over the neighbourhood. From nests tens of metres apart, winged males and winged virgin females emerge from their holes and take to the air where mating occurs. The ants fall to the ground and the males die, their job over. The fertilised females bite off their wings and seek out a spot to begin a new nest and lay eggs. The morning after one of these events, the deck will be covered in discarded wings.
I went to get the camera, with flying ants hitting me in the face and falling into my hair. While I was taking pictures, I noticed there was a commotion in the chook run. Ants were flying and falling into the run. The chooks were doing somersaults, plucking them out of the air and racing one another to snatch up the fallen ones. It was an unexpected protein supper and too good to pass up.
The ants were flying slowly enough that I could swipe them out of the air with my hand and into the chook run where they were quickly snatched up. I wished I’d had a ping pong bat. The deck was covered with them. I got the dustpan and brush, swept them up and threw them to the chooks. No sense wasting good protein.
The Noisy Miners were having a beanfeast too, snatching them out of the air. It was 10 minutes of glorious mayhem with chooks running and jumping every which way and me yelling, “go get ‘em girls….oh, well done”. Eventually it got too dark for us to see anything. The chooks retired to bed with full tummies and I went back to the computer and Google.
There’s a good site here with an explanation of the phenomenon.
I’ve noticed this event happening for several years now. I don’t know what triggers it but it’s usually at the end of a warm spring day. I watched the moon come up later whilst lying in bed and it looked full, but when I checked it was 2 days after the full. So the full moon doesn’t come into it. Most sites I looked at attribute it to just warmth and humidity.
Some ants in the picture don’t have wings. Maybe it’s not their night for sex on the wing.