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Science

It's Flying Ant Day but it might as well be the end of the world for some

It's an ant's world, and we just live in it.

If ever there was a definitive sign of the apocalypse being well and truly on its way, Flying Ant Day would be it.

Because it seems they’re taking over, and people are losing it.

The creatures have run amok at Wimbledon, creating a frenzy and disrupting players.

Cameras captured scores of ants zipping across the court and burying themselves among the blades of grass.

But while you’re wondering “what’s the point” and flailing your limbs in a futile attempt to escape the creatures, here’s the (pretty sexy) reason behind their invasion: it’s mating time.

Flying Ant Day sees male ants and young queens leave the nest to mate, when the conditions are “just right”, explains Philippa Skett from the Royal Society of Biology.

US player Steve Johnson gestures to get rid of flying ants during his atch against Moldova’s Radu Albot (Alastair Grant/AP)

She said: “It is the way that many ant species, including the black garden ant Lasius niger, leave their previous nest to begin new colonies.”

Queen ants – larger female ants who “start their adult life with wings” – fly from their previous colonies to find mates from another one.

“When far enough away, the females and males commence breeding, with mating taking place during flight and the male dying shortly after,” said Skett.

She continued: “The fertilised female then lands, chews off her wings, then goes about creating a new colony and starts to produce offspring.”

How metal is that?

If the conditions are right, there is a chance that the phenomenon won’t occur on just one day, but “several days throughout the summer,” Skett said. It all depends on nature’s mood-setter: the weather.

Flying ants on Court Three on day three of Wimbledon (Adam Davy/PA)

Flying ants tend to emerge in “warm and dry” weather periods of the summer months – rain, cold conditions or extreme heat could kill them off.

While they can be a nuisance, they actually contribute a fair bit to the environment by aerating the soil and recycling nutrients.

“Their activity allows for more oxygen and water to reach the roots of plants and they can even improve soil fertility and help control pests,” said Skett.

They also provide a tasty treat for birds.

So next time you see one (or 100 at once), keep calm and carry on. They’re good little ants.

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