Late yesterday afternoon above Mill Copse Pool a few hundred Black-headed Gulls were feeding on flying Ants that were rising on the thermals. Watching this display was fascinating. Even as I watched, a constant stream of Ants slowly flew up into the skies in front of me on their nuptial flight!
So, what is the biology behind this spectacle? Below is the helpful explanation given by the BBC news site back in July:
For the ants it is the first step in founding new colonies. So how do they know which day it will happen?
Scientists don't fully understand how the ritual works but do
know weather is important. Ants pick a day by sensing temperature,
humidity and day length, says Dr Mark Downs, of the Society of Biology.
Warm, humid conditions are perfect. Heat makes it easier for them to fly
and humidity makes the ground softer for mated queens to dig nests. How
flights are synchronised between nests is still not fully understood,
some suggest once ants begin to fly they give off a chemical smell that
"Ants are not the strongest fliers and they mate on the wing,
so their chances of mating are greatly reduced if they come out in the
rain," says Downs. "Humidity and wet weather prior to the flight also
means that the ground is soft, which makes it easier for the queens to
burrow down and make a nest once they have mated.
Flights are synchronised between nests because the flying ants need
to maximise their chances of meeting ants from other colonies to mate
with. Downs says scientists still don't fully understand how this
"extraordinary" synchronisation happens, with more research being done.
Queens mate with males during flight, after which the female
will lose her wings and attempt to start her own colony by burrowing
into the soil. Males die shortly after mating but queens can live for up
to 15 years.
"The queens themselves, once they have gone down to burrow,
will not eat for six to eight weeks," says Downs. "They will live off
the vestige of their wings for energy while they raise their first
The usual time for flying ants is July, so I reckon these must be a different species!
Other bird news:
At Kingfisher Bridge, 50 metres away, there were 3 Common Sandpipers, 2 Greenshank, a Redshank, several Black-tailed Godwits, and a Little Egret!