There are ants with wings that take to the sky when it rains. Here we will tell you why they do it and what makes them have wings.
You’ve probably seen ants with wings, right?
Strange as it may seem, this event is not a natural error or an atypical event. Since it responds to the reproductive mechanism of the vast majority of social wasps. The massive emergence of winged ants at ideal times of temperature and humidity. Is known as nuptial swarming and is fascinating.
Ant colonies usually live underground or in rotting logs, but from time to time some winged individuals. Must be born so that the spread of genes occurs beyond the anthill itself. If you want to know more about this topic, we encourage you to continue reading.
General characteristics of a flying ant
Before we tell you why there are ants with wings. We think it is interesting to briefly explore their general characteristics. Ants represent a group of eusocial insects belonging to the family Formicidae and the order Hymenoptera. That is, they are close relatives of bees and wasps.
Like all insects, their body is divided into 3 sections or tagmae. A head with sensory organs such as compound eyes, ocelli and antennae. A thorax with 3 pairs of legs (and wings in the case of reproductive individuals). an abdomen, with the reproductive organs, trachea, and excretory systems.
About 14,000 species of ants have been described, but it is estimated that there may be more than 22,000 worldwide. They account for up to 25% of the biomass of land animals and have colonized the entire surface of the planet. Except for Antarctica and some remote islands.
A caste system – swarms of flying ants
Ants are eusocial (the highest degree of cooperation in the animal kingdom). Meaning that an ant colony is a functional unit that is much more than the sum of its parts. The colony is composed of thousands of individuals and is divided into the following castes:
The queen is an ant that is the product of sexual reproduction. So she is diploid (has double the number of chromosomes, half from the father and half from the mother). She is the only one who can reproduce, and the entire colony revolves around her. As she is responsible for laying the eggs. Queens can live up to 10 years, some even 30.
The queen is the center of the colony, but the workers are the ones who work and do all the work, from building galleries to feeding the larvae. Life expectancy is between months and a year (2 at most) and there are thousands of them in each anthill. They are also diploid because the eggs from which they hatch have been fertilized by the sperm stored by the queen.
Males come from asexual reproduction and are haploid (they have half chromosomes because their eggs have not been fertilized). They lack the functional biology of queens and workers, so they live only to reproduce and die a few days after birth.
Why ants have wings?
As we have indicated in previous lines, the presence or absence of wings depends on the reproductive role of the individual in the colony. Reproductive females are born in the anthill as winged princesses and fly to the sky to be fertilized. The males are also winged. Workers and fertilized queens lack these structures.
When conditions are right (usually when temperatures drop after summer and with its rains), thousands of queens and males of the same species emerge synchronously from the nests in a biological event known as nuptial swarming. During the flights, the princesses reproduce with more than 1 male and store the sperm in their spermatheca.
Once fertilized, the princess in question looks for a suitable place to establish her colony. She goes underground and tears off her wings, at which point she becomes the queen of a new colony. As the Royal Society indicates, the queen is able to store the sperm obtained during the nuptial elopement for decades, allowing her to produce fertile eggs until she dies.
Most winged ants die
However, the whole process is not as pretty as it seems. As studies indicate, up to 45% of resident queens of many species (such as Acromyrmex subterraneus) die within days of burial underground. We must also consider the mortality of winged ants in general, as they are food for birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.
The vast majority of virgin princesses die within hours of leaving the roost without reproducing. Not only are they eaten by larger animals, but they are also attacked by ants from other colonies (of the same or different species), drown, suffer thermal shock or become dehydrated. Of all the princesses produced in a colony, only 1 or 2 will go on to establish a new anthill.
Nuptial swarms for most ant species are massive, but the high mortality of winged ants (both queens and males) means that only a small percentage of them result in new colonies.
Are ants with wings cause for concern?
Ultimately, we want to emphasize the importance of not killing the winged ants that you may encounter. They are not mosquitoes, flies or any kind of insect that has already reproduced, so it is important that you let them fly so that they can create offspring. If you kill them, you further reduce the chance of new colonies being founded.
Whether male or female, winged ants do not sting or bite. They are only interested in reproducing and will die shortly after if they are unsuccessful.
As you can see, the presence of winged ants in the environment responds to a fascinating biological event. The nuptial swarm shows us that even the most seemingly simple animals keep impressive secrets regarding their reproductive behavior. If you observe a swarm in your area, observe and document it, but intervene as little as possible.
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Vogue Health Team