If you notice what appear to be flying ants, they might not be ants at all, but rather flying termites. Both flying termites and flying ants may swarm when they are setting out to reproduce; so how do you tell the difference? It's actually fairly easy. |
To deduce whether the insect is a flying ant, look closely at the body. Ants have three separate body parts: head, thorax (chest), and abdomen (tail). The legs of an ant are all attached to the thorax just behind the head in the midsection of the insect. The thorax joins the abdomen in a very thin area that resembles a waist. Ants also have a distinctive and obvious near-90-degree bend in their antennae.
Flying termites only have a head and body. They do not have a thorax or a "waist". The legs of a flying termite are attached all along the length of the body, rather than sprouting from one small area of the midsection. Furthermore, the antennae of flying termites tend to sweep forward, but lack the telltale right-angle bend of the ant's antennae.
The double-set wings of a termite are of equal length, while the double-set wings of an ant are not. However this may be harder to notice if the insect has its wings folded back along its body.
Swarming termites are weak fliers, do not bite, do not live long, and cannot eat wood. Their only purpose is reproduction. They are however, alarming when they appear in great numbers, especially inside the home. A few termites can find their way anywhere, blown into your yard by wind or riding into your house on your sweater or jeans. If you notice a sudden presence of scores of flying termites, especially within the home, you may have a severe infestation, possibly in the crawl space below the house, in the attic or in the walls. A swarm found outside may indicate that termite colonies have infested a garage, a rotted tree, a woodpile or perhaps a wooden fence.
If the swarming insects appear in the house they do not need to be killed with insecticide. They will die within a few hours and can be vacuumed up. However, a professional should be consulted to check the home for infestation. Make sure to save a few of the offending swarmers to show him.
If the flying insect turns out to be a flying ant, there is less cause for concern, especially if there are only a few. However, if you find yourself amidst a swarm of flying ants, or if you have a problem with carpenter ants or any other destructive species, you should contact a professional for advise.
Not all ants follow the basic pattern described above. In army ants only males have wings. They fly out from their parent colony in search of other colonies where virgin queens wait for them. A colony with an old queen and one or more mated young queens then divides, each successful queen taking a share of the workers. The reason for this behavior is the fact that army ants do not have a physical nest. The queens are thus absolutely dependent on workers to protect them.
Another variation is found in species with multi-queen colonies, such as Solenopsis invicta. The males and virgin queens mate and the queens then often return to the parent colony, where they will then remain. This process greatly increases the success rate of virgin queens and allows the creation of extremely large colonies or networks of cooperating colonies. The colony also becomes essentially immortal as it is no longer dependent on the continued health of a single queen. This allows Solenopsis invicta colonies to become entrenched in their surroundings, achieving a dominant position in the ecosystem. However, the price for this is inbreeding and the resulting loss of adaptability. This may result in sudden collapses in population when the environment changes or a new predator or parasite is introduced.
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