The ants that have wings are not a particular species of flying ants but rather members of a species of ants that can fly. Only certain ants will grow wings within a species, for the purpose of leaving a colony and establishing a new one. Winged ants are often mistaken for termites, but there are ways to tell the two insects apart.
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Ant colonies are created by queen ants who have mated. They originally have wings but lose them after they mate. The queen lays eggs that become workers, and a colony is established. Eventually ants will be born who will have no other function but to mate. These ants, both male and female, develop wings that they use to leave the colony and mate. The male ants die quickly after mating, while the females who have mated are future queens, looking to start the entire process all over again.
Flying ants leave the nests and swarm, congregating in great numbers and flying into the air, where they meet with the flying members of other colonies of ants. This swarming is timed so that a number of colonies swarm at once, making it more likely those ants will successfully mate. Flying ants looking to reproduce will often accumulate at certain places, such as the largest tree in the area or the highest rooftop. This behaviour is called hill-topping. Not all species of ants mate in this way, because some species cannot fly.
Ants have colonies in many places such as in dead trees, under woodpiles or in the ground. When they emerge to swarm and fly away in their mating ritual, they take off one after the other. This attracts a variety of predators looking for a meal. Dragonflies will eat flying ants, as will birds such as swallows, swifts, seagulls and warblers.
The activity of flying ants comes in bursts once it begins and can last a few hours or a few days, depending on the size of the swarms. Some swarms contain as many as hundreds of thousands of individuals. Little can be done to control such swarms, which can become a nuisance but pose no threats to people.
Termites are often called flying ants, but the differences between the two insect species can be seen up close. Ants have a thin middle section, which gives them three distinct body segments, while a termite is much broader in the middle so that it looks like it only has two sections. Ants have bent antennae, while termites' antennae are straight. The wings of flying ants are larger in the front than in the back, while a termite's wings are all the same size.
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