Ants with Wings
Most ants are grounded for life, but, if you see a large ant flying in or around your home, you literally have the mother of all infestations. The main type of flying ant is the fertile queen. She has only one thing on her mind: creating a colony which will produce endless numbers of ants.
Queens are generally much larger than other ants of their species. They are born with their wings which are used during the romantically named nuptial flight. During this flight, also known by the less poetic term, “flying ant day,” the virgin queens release pheromones to attract much smaller male ants that also have wings. Mating takes place in the air with the queen trying to escape from the males. This means only the fastest and fittest get to mate. Biologist Edward O. Wilson calls the winged males, “single-purpose sexual missiles.” You don’t want them in your house. Once the males fulfill their destiny, they die. And it’s not pretty for the guys. During what Wilson calls a “quick and violent mating,” the male ant fatally explodes his genitalia inside the queen.
Once the males mate, the queen is filled with millions of fertilized eggs. At this point, the queen no longer needs her wings and she removes them. The now wingless, pregnant queen begins digging a chamber for her offspring. When this task is finished, the queen will continuously release eggs throughout her lifetime, which might be up to 20 or 30 years. Some millions of these eggs will be winged queens, each genetically programmed to take her nuptial flight before founding her own colony.
Not all ants follow this regimen. Among army ants, only males have wings and their mission is to fly the forest until they find a virgin queen to mate with. For most ants, however, flying ant day is a time when queen take to the skies. Some fly long distances others only go a few feet before dropping to the ground to found a new colony. Fortunately, this behavior attracts the attention of predators like birds who love to dine on juicy pregnant queens. If not for these hungry predators, there would be trillions more ants, and there’s already enough of these critters to occupy nearly every square foot of ground on earth.