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Why Do Ants Have Wings?

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Why Do Ants Have Wings?
Photo by Luís Flávio Loureiro dos Santos

Ants with wings can be a fairly common sight at certain times during the year and for almost all ant species. This is because winged ants are swarming ants: they are the male, drone, and female, queen, reproductive ants that are seeking a mate with whom to breed the next generation of ants for the ongoing survival of their colony.

Flying Ants

The "swarms" of flying ants can number into the thousands that are flying from their colonies in early to mid spring on their mating, or "nuptial" flights. The number of swarmers is high because only a very small percentage actually make it through mating and live to start a new generation. The others will be eaten by predators, such as birds or dragonflies, or die from lack of food or water.

The ants of a species within an area will generally all emerge around the same time, because the swarming is triggered by temperature and other weather, such recent rains. Almost all ant species do swarm (see budding ants for those that don't), and spring and fall are common seasons for the mating flights, however some species will mate in summer or other times of year as well.

It is only these reproductives, however, who have wings, and they will be winged only during breeding. Ant species that do not swarm will not have winged members, but will increase their populations through budding. Additionally, the foraging worker ants of any species that you see trailing on the sidewalk - or in your kitchen - will never have wings. So if you do see winged ants in or around your home, you can bet that they are seeking to create to a new colony.

Once the male and female mate, the female "queen" will remove her wings to start a new nest. The male drone, whose only purpose in life is to mate, will live a few months at most, then die after mating. Thus, for their short period of winged life, these ants are, for the most part, relatively harmless when found outdoors, and are simply part of the natural lifecycle of ants.

Flying Ant Control

One positive aspect of swarming is that if you have been having problems with ants in or around your home, inspection of the swarm can help locate the nest and enable more effective control.

The most effective methods of control for ants are:

  • baiting along trails where ants have been seen.
  • direct nest application with a properly labeled insecticide.
(For more information, see How to Get Rid of Ants and Controlling Pests that Pester You. Part 3: Ants.)

Control is generally only necessary if outdoor ants are causing a problem or if ants are being seen indoors. This is particularly advisable if flying or winged ants are found in the home. Although it can simply be an ant or two that has lost its way during mating, it is advisable that the species be identified, because carpenter ants and termites (while these are not really ants, they are often mistaken as such), can cause significant damage to homes and buildings. And winged ones would mean they are attempting to extend their populations even further, potentially causing extensive damage.

More information on carpenter ants and termites is available at:

  1. Indoor Flying Ants Are Not a Good Sign
  2. Questions and Answers about Flying Ants
  3. How to Tell the Difference Between Ants and Termites
  4. ontrolling Pests that Pester You. Part 6: Termites or Carpenter Ants
  5. The Carpenter Ant
  6. Control Carpenter Ants
  7. Termite Facts
  8. Termites Cause Damage Across the U.S.
  9. Expert Recommendations for Termite Prevention
  10. Prepare for Termite Service

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