12 July 2011

ant nuptials

My childhood sugar-water/magnifying glass memories have been telling me that when the mounds of ant-earth get that big it's gonna happen.  It did, so today I was excited by the ants.  Some things just don't change.

Today the combination of warmth and humidity triggered the ants into action.  They have been waiting  for the conditions to be just right to take to the sky in a mass mating flight.  In the garden and across London, countless fat-bodied virgin-queens synchronised their departures to take the air with equally countless small winged males.  As they rush to the top of grass stalks for lift off, the nests swarm with frantic workers.  The slightest disturbance drives them into a frenzy - they bravely attack legs.   

By simultaneously launching en-masse the odds are improved for a lucky few to avoid the army of hungry beaks and mouths all ready to take a toll (the wren was busy).  After mating, the female ants  drop to the ground (the males soon die), chew their own wings off and frantically search for a place to dig.  If lucky and on soft ground they soon disappear underground, where if nothing gets them, they  excavate a small cavity, the beginnings of a new nest.  They survive by re-absorbing their redundant wing muscles, just living off these reserves as they raise the first few workers.  The first workers will leave the nest the following spring to search for food.  A new colony will take years to grow to maturity and to produce the fertile winged forms.  With lots of luck the queens may live for 20 years or more.  

Good luck my beauties!