If you're not a fan of insects or flying things then there's one day of the year that you'll definitely spend hiding away indoors if you live in the UK... flying ant day! It sounds horrendous because it is but how can we prepared for the invasion of fleet of winged ants? When do the ant come, how long will they be here and is it just once a year?
The uneducated think that Flying Ant Day is the time of year when ant sprout wings and leave their nests for a fly around... well, ignorance is bliss because what's really going on is more like the horrific breeding cycle of the xenomorph in the 'Alien' movies.
What you're actually witnessing is the nuptial flight of the local ant community when queens mate with males and then land to start a new colony. The most common type of flying ant in the UK belongs to the black garden variety, or the lasius niger and live in colonies of around 5,000 worker ants who all server a single queen.
Queens, usually the biggest winged ant, can live for over 10 years and rarely leave the nest but each year, the colony seasonally produces winged virgin queens who venture out of the nest to mate along with winged males.
Most of the action takes place in the air, first they scatter to ensure there is no cross breeding, then the queen releases pheromones to attract frisky male ants who give chase, meaning only the fittest and fastest ant get to mate with the queen.
This is where it gets really nasty, the queen is a bit of a slut, she'll mate with several males and it's all for her pleasure. After the male penetrates its queen his genitalia explodes, releasing his goodness into a special storage pouch in the female's abdomen.
The males dies soon after but his sperm lives on in the queen for the rest of her life, during which time she can use it to fertilise millions of eggs. After mating the queen loses her wings and heads off in search of somewhere to set up a new nest and start a new colony.
It's hard to say when Flying Ant Day will be as it doesn't occur at the same time every year or even on a single day across the whole of the UK.
The flying ants' invasion can actually last a few weeks but usually peaks on one day in the summer when a spell of wet weather is followed closely by hot humid weather, its for this reason that the actual day varies by location as it depends on the local weather conditions.
Flying Ant Day usually occurs in July or August but it can be as early as June or as late as September. In 2012 for example, there were two main peaks of ant activity, first on July 24th and then two weeks later on August 8th, but in 2013 the ant army appeared in June, much earlier than the previous year.
In 2014 the first reports of flying ants was on July 2nd but the following two years have shown how the national day of airborne ant can spread across the whole of the summer with sighting coming in across the whole season.
While the actual date of Flying Ant Day might be hard to predict, the peak flight time for ants is around 6pm. It seems ants love a balmy evening flight no matter what part of the UK they are in.
Back in 2008 in podcast with my friend Kerry, we discussed her first experience of Flying Ant Day. It seems that further up the country in South Shields the climate is just that little bit cooler which means she'd never encounter the swarms of winged ants we get down in the South of England.