During all this muggy weather, millions of flying ants are emerging from their nests below ground, and the sure way of knowing that this is happening are the groups of circling gulls feasting on the aerial bonanza. Newspapers are getting reports from alarmed readers seeing swarms of flying insects coming out of cracks in paving stones, and getting stuck in peoples hair, but it’s simply the annual mating ritual of the common garden black ant. On landing the ants discard their wings, and immediately go searching for a new nest site. They wait for perfectly still hot conditions, and then seem to erupt simultaneously from nests all around our village. Taking to the skies at the same time cuts down the risk of being snapped up by predators, and they’ll do this throughout July and August whenever the conditions are right. These slow-flying ants appear each year from underground nests beneath our conservatory, and are easily snapped up by house sparrows and chaffinches behaving like clumsy flycatchers.
Spread out in an orderly fashion on the local golf course this evening, dozens of black-headed gulls, rooks and jackdaws also take advantage of these rich pickings. I can’t be sure if the house martins and swallows above are doing the same, but there are many more in the sky than normal. There are no swifts, but they too must take advantage of this easy-to-catch bonanza, and I suspect that breeding success must depend to some extent on this glut of food.
It doesn’t last long, and after about half and hour the action is over, the gulls and crows disperse, and the skies clear, but there will be many more opportunities if the weather holds.