Why are there so many flying ants in the UK? Plus how to get rid of them

Flying Ant Day has arrived which is no doubt why there are so many of them all over the UK.

there are so many flying ants, pictured here in a swarm, at this time of year
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Flying ants always seem to appear on the same day in the UK - a phenomenon known as Flying Ant Day. Though not dangerous, the sudden appearance of so many ants can be annoying.

It's that time of year again where flying ants are causing disruption in our homes and gardens, leaving most people wondering where they've come from, how they can get rid of ants (opens in new tab) and, if they're unlucky enough, how to treat the insect's bite (opens in new tab).

Though the actual date changes each year, the sudden appearance of the critters usually occurs in July, at the start of summer (opens in new tab). Here's everything you need to know about why there are so many flying ants and how you can get rid of them.

Why are there so many flying ants?

The reason why flying ants are suddenly appearing is because of the time of year. In summertime, Flying Ant Day occurs - which sees ants sprout wings and seek out other colonies to mate with (known as their 'nuptial flight').

The large number of ants appearing in a short space of time increases the chance of a queen encountering a male from another nest, therefore increasing chances of reproduction, and there are so many that the Met Office has been known to pick them up on its satellites.

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The Society of Biology says that nuptial flight is an important part of the reproduction process for ant species, because it's when the virgin queens mate with males and start a new colony.

Once the queens have mated they lose their wings, which is why you will sometimes see large ants walking around on their own. These are new queens looking for somewhere to set up their nest. Once underground, she will lay her eggs and rest until the eggs hatch and the cycle begins again.

Flying Ant Day 2022

It's widely agreed that flying ant day this year is July 8, 2022. According to Pest UK (opens in new tab), Flying Ant Day comes after a spell of hot and humid weather. So, if conditions are similar across a large area then the flying ants may appear on the same day.

The Natural History Museum (opens in new tab) says that flying ants tend to appear earlier in urban areas, because temperatures are usually higher. They add that this can be unfortunate for tennis players at Wimbledon (opens in new tab), saying "There are years when flying ants plague players during their matches, causing so much disruption it makes the news."

flying ant on tennis player's hat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

However, The Society of Biology found in a study that the idea of a single Flying Ant Day is actually a misconception. Instead, flying ants appear over a 'season', though there are peaks in their appearances.

How long do flying ants stay around?

Flying ants usually emerge over several weeks. Although it's referred to as a day, it takes much longer for all the ants to sprout wings and emerge, and for the mating ritual to be completed.

Most of the flying ants we see in the UK are black garden ants (Lasius niger). Their nests have a single queen, which can be up to 15mm long, and typically around 5,000 workers (although there can be as many as 15,000). Workers are the ants we see most of the year round, whose job is to collect food.

The male ants usually only live for a day or two after their nuptial flight, though the queens can live for up to 15 years.

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Do flying ants bite?

Flying ants can bite, although it's highly unlikely that they will do so because they are so focused on mating.

The NHS (opens in new tab) website says "Ant bites and stings are generally harmless, although you'll probably feel a nip and a pale pink mark may develop on your skin."

They add that the best ways to avoid being bitten are to wear insect repellent, keep food and drink covered and avoid disturbing nests.

Although flying ants are harmless to humans, they do have a strange effect on seagulls. Dr Rebecca Nesbit of the Society of Biology told The Telegraph (opens in new tab) that the ants contain formic acid, which can cause gulls to appear “drunk” and lose their inhibitions after eating them. Seagulls have been known to fly into buildings and moving cars after eating the ants.

What kills flying ants? How to get rid of them

You can get rid of flying ants with washing up liquid, insecticides or boiling water. However, left alone, flying ants will go away after a couple of weeks. 

While the insects do have their benefits - their tunnelling improves soil quality, the swarming provides food for birds, and they are also important for the survival of butterflies - their presence can sometimes be unbearable.

In addition, flying ants have been known to infest homes, and if this is the case you will want to get rid of them. A good method to try is to mix washing up liquid with water in a spray bottle and spray the mixture on the ants while they're in the air. The washing up liquid will stick to the ants' bodies and dehydrate them.

The most effective way to treat an invasion in the home is to use insecticidal powder around the wall and door frames or, if you have an ant hill in your garden, pouring boiling water on it should do the trick.

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Ellie Hutchings
Ellie Hutchings

Ellie joined Goodto as a Junior Features Writer in 2022 after finishing her Master’s in Magazine Journalism at Nottingham Trent University. Previously, she completed successful work experience placements with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue and the Nottingham Post, and freelanced as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. In 2021, Ellie graduated from Cardiff University with a first-class degree in Journalism.