photo of a flying ant

Flying Ants

During the late summer the nest produces winged ants, often called flying ants. These are not a different type of ant, but are the new queen ants and males. These can be produced in large quantities.

Flying ants have 3 body segments, just like regular ants. Termites have only 2 body segments.

photo of termites compared to ants

Flying allows mating with distant individuals and thereby avoids the disease vulnerabilities of heavily inbred creatures. Ants evolved from flying insects and so the genes for wings exist in them but are not generally expressed. However, if useful evolutionarily they can reappear either permanently or in some context.

Some ants, both males and females, or queens, have wings at mating time, and July is a time when several species would be flying.

Ants are closely related to wasps and bees, and the worker ants have lost their wings through evolution as an adaptation to a subterranean way of life. Wings get in the way.

So the fertile ants (flying ants) have merely retained the wings of their wasp-like ancestors for the purposes of reproduction and spreading their numbers as widely as possible. The workers have lost their wings for a life under ground.

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