It’s time to keep your eyes peeled and your test tubes packed, its Nuptial Flight Season!
Here in the UK, nuptial flight season has just begun. For those of you who are new to the hobby, ants reproduce and disperse to form new colonies through this process. A nuptial flight occurs on a warm, sunny day and generally rainfall prior to the day occurs. It is thought that this helps the new Queens to dig their founding chambers, as opposed to hard, dry ground.
So what actually happens during a nuptial flight? Well a little background information is required to help you understand this fully. In Spring, mature colonies in nature begin producing Winged males, also known as drones, and Winged Queens. Ordinarily a colony of ants consists of only female workers and have no wings, but this is a special season for ants, in their attempt to disperse and found new colonies.
A winged Queen at this moment in time cannot go and found a colony, she needs to be fertilised by the males and the process of a nuptial flight is exactly that…airborne! The winged Queens and males fly and copulate mid-air, this usually occurs between different colonies in order to reduce inbreeding. After successfully mating, the winged Queens drop to the ground and begin breaking away their wings – they will never use them again. Once completed, they scurry around searching for a suitable area to dig a founding chamber, and this entire process can be over in a matter of an hour.
For ant keepers this is the most ethical way to collect Queens to raise your own colony. Excavating colonies is frowned upon by the majority of ant keepers, but capturing your own Queen ant in a nuptial flight is the best and most fun way to get started! For this reason, always keep a couple of test tubes and cotton with you for the next 2-3 months, the flights often occur spontaneously so you need to be ready!