NUPTIAL FLIGHTS

The conditions were perfect yesterday for the air after lunch was warm and humid; not a leaf moved it was so still. My attention was drawn to a slight ‘rubbing’ noise akin to stockings rubbing together or a coarse polishing cloth being used around the corner from where I was sitting. When I looked up the air was filled with winged ants.

These flying ants, known as alates, emerged from at least three places quite close to each other – hundreds of them. I watched as several of them poked their heads through the gaps at a time, shook their delicate wings and flew off. Onward and upward seemed to be the clarion call.

The ground around the openings was crawling with tiny white termites, newly emerged alates and discarded wings. Careful observation occasionally revealed two ants (these would have been males and females) flying joined together in their nuptial flight. Although they emerge at the same time, the queens release pheromones to attract males before mating and usually mates with several males if they can.

I wasn’t the only one watching for even the Laughing Doves and the Speckled Pigeons were ready for a feast:

Red-winged Starlings swooped down to catch as many ants in one go as they could:

Black-collared Barbets preferred to catch the flying ants on the wing as they flew passed them perched on the higher branches:

We have a number of lizards and geckos all over the garden. The two on the wall closest to the origin of this feast scuttled back and forth catching unsuspecting flying ants on the trot until their bellies were fully extended.

At a higher level, they were being caught by Fork-tailed Drongos and White-rumped Swifts. It is thus easy to understand that appearing in such large numbers at once provides the flying ants with a degree of protection from potential predators.