Thursday 17 July 2014

Flying ants - nuptial flight

Sue came back from the garden and said she’d been mobbed by a swarm of ants. I found them on the tarmac and traced their source to the top of the stump of the old sycamore tree. It was amazing to see them but even more so when I read about their nuptial flight. Unbelievable! The rest is cribbed from Wikipedia …..

A mature ant colony seasonally produces winged virgin queens and males. Within a few days after they have emerged from the pupa case, males are quickly converted into single-purpose sexual missiles.

Young queens and males stay in their parent colony until conditions are right for the nuptial flight. The flight requires clear weather since rain is disruptive for flying insects. Different colonies of the same species often use environmental cues to synchronize the release of males and queens so that they can mate with individuals from other nests, thus avoiding inbreeding. The actual take off from the parent colony is also often synchronized to overwhelm their predators.

The queens release pheromones to attract males but they often try to escape the males, allowing only the fastest and the fittest males to mate. Mating takes place during flight.

One queen usually mates with several males. The sperm is stored in a special organ, known as a spermatheca, in the queen's abdomen, and lasts throughout her lifetime. This can be as long as 20 years, during which time the sperm can be used to fertilize tens of millions of eggs.

The males have evolved for the single purpose of inseminating the queen, and can't even feed themselves for the few days of their lives. During the quick and violent mating, the male literally explodes his internal genitalia into the genital chamber of the queen and quickly dies.

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