Thunder Bay

Flying ants eat wings as part of mating ritual, entomologist says

The swarms of flying ants spotted by people in Thunder Bay, Ont., last weekend are part of an elaborate mating ritual, according to provincial forest entomologist Taylor Scarr.

Male ants show up once a year, meet their mates in the air and then die

(bugeric.blogspot.ca)

The swarms of flying ants spotted by people in Thunder Bay, Ont., last weekend are part of an elaborate mating ritual, according to provincial forest entomologist Taylor Scarr.

Some residents reported seeing clouds of black ants on Saturday and Sunday as the weather warmed up after a cool spell in Thunder Bay.

Pine beetles are sometimes known as white-spotted sawyer beetles, says Taylor Scarr, a forest entomologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in Ontario. (Hilary Duff/CBC)
That weather pattern prompts the mating period, the one and only time that male ants are produced, said Scarr, who works for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The male ant's life is complete once the mating is over.

"The males will die and the females will drop to the ground and will drop their wings and they eat their wings to maintain the protein they used just to make their wings," Scarr said. "They don't need the wings any more once they're underground."

The females then form an underground colony where only females are produced until the next spring, he said.

The mass mating "also overwhelms the predators like gulls and other birds that might try to feed on them," Scarr said. "There are so many ants out at once that they can't all be eaten and the species continues to survive and spread to new areas."

Scarr couldn't say which species of ants were spotted in Thunder Bay as several different kinds of ants have the same mating ritual. The insects generally won't bite, unless they're threatened, he said.

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