Friday, March 16, 2012

Ant Chat 37: Flight of the Winter Ant

In summary, the earliest days of the year where it's 70F out are typically when this ant flies. They may be found flying as late as April but that tends to be the most northern part of their range, where as groups farther south can fly as early as February. Swarms gather around trees and shrubs, but aren't picky. The same day as this video I found males swarming around telephone poles and even specimen trees in my back yard. Forests tend to be abundant with swarming males which typically means more queens will show up. Queens are greatly out numbered and show up one at a time, every 5 minutes to a half hour.

 Males are quick to locate them as they arrive. Once the queen has, we'll call it "tagged in," she'll try to climb up high and fly away, often a male or two will still be with her. As the day progresses wingless queens can be found wondering around looking for places to make nests, though in my experience these are harder to find than queens are arriving to the swarm to mate.

Can you find the queen ant? I think the bright oranges, blonds, and browns are intended as a sort of camouflage against birds. (At the same time though I believe males are drawn to her flashy colors. I recall in my youth finding a hot yellow toy shovel that was covered in male ants and I couldn't explain why. I didn't care about ants then as much as I do now. )

Colonies are easy to start in test tubes, however this is one of the more boring species to keep. Queens only lay eggs at one time of the year and if the batch fails that's it for the year. Even so they're a fun ant to come across and learn about.