Flying ants in England probably won’t be the first thing on your mind when planning that trip to Old Blighty. More likely, you’re thinking about the top things to see in London, whether you can get north to hike the Peak District and the Lake District, or the best beaches down in Cornwall and Devon. Truth is, those are precisely the things that you should be thinking about, too.
However, ask any locals about the flying ants in England and they’re sure to tell you all about the infamous day of the flying ants. It’s a once-yearly phenomenon that tends to happen in the mid- to late-summer. And it’s always an event worthy of remark.
In this guide to flying ants in England and the UK, we’ll run through everything you need to know about these teeny-tiny critters, when they most commonly make an appearance, and if there’s anything to worry about when they do. It’s certainly not essential travel reading, but it’s good-to-know stuff if you’re dropping by the land of fish and chips come the summertime.
What are flying ants?
Flying ants are actually just normal garden ants. Yep, you know, the pinprick-sized insects you see marching to and fro in the backyard all year long? Those are the very same species that will take to the skies during the midst of the British summer. Some caveats, though…
Only two types of the common garden ant grow wings and jet away during the hot season: The males and what’s known as the virgin queens (that’s any princess ant that has the capability of becoming a full queen and forming a separate colony). You can tell them apart because of size – queen ants are always the larger of the two fliers, sometimes coming in at more than double the size of the average male flying ant.
More generally speaking, the garden ants we’re talking about here reign as one of the most common insect species in Europe. They have the Latin name Lasius niger, usually measure just a matter of millimetres across, and exist on a diet of foraged proteins and honeydew.
What is the day of the flying ants?
The day of the flying ants is the phrase used to refer to the moment that huge swarms of these creatures emerge from their nests. In England and the rest of the UK, this typically happens once or twice each year, usually in the high summer. To be honest, when it happens, it can be hard to miss – you’ll notice huge clusters of ants on the sidewalks and pavements, and swarms of them whizzing through the air.
More technically speaking, biologists refer to the emergence of flying ants all at once as the nuptial flight. It’s when unpartnered queen ants choose male mates and leave behind their former colonies to form new ones in new nests. Queens will often travel considerable distances away from their original homes to ensure they find partners who aren’t biologically related to them, thus ensuring the purity of the new bloodline.
The nuptial flight of flying ants is actually quite a brutal business. Male ants are known to die instantly after mating with the queen. That queen then lands and discards her own wings in order to spend her time doing nothing but laying eggs for the coming days, all in order to create enough new worker ants to support the new colony. What a life, eh?
What should I expect if I’m in England during the day of the flying ants?
Well…flying ants. And lots of them.
On a hot summer’s day when this strange natural occurrence happens in earnest, you can expect a whole load of ants to be present, both in the air and on the ground. It’s certainly most notable in urban areas, where ants leaving the nest kick up piles of dirt and even move mortar and concrete out of patios and walls as they embark on their journey.
Signs that the day of the ants is coming will appear in the hours and weeks before it happens. You might notice small mounds of debris accumulating around the site of ant nests as some of the first fliers jet off prematurely. You might also get warnings from the weather service, which can pick up increasing numbers of the ants on their radars in the run up to the event itself.
When is the day of the flying ants?
There are no rules here. The day of the flying ants can occur pretty much any time between May and September. What’s more, it doesn’t have to happen across the whole of England at the same time. It might be day of the flying ants up in Manchester while London still hasn’t seen a single buzzy boy in the air; there might be swarms of the critters flitting around down in Cornwall, while Kent and Norfolk have clear skies from The Broads to the Three Sisters.
The best estimate we can give for the day of the flying ants is sometime around the peak of the summer months. Nuptial flight phenomenon like this tend to occur after long periods of hot, dry weather, which – for the UK, at least – means that the weeks towards the end of July and the beginning of August are the most common of all.
In 2023, weather radar reports showed that flying ants were out in force across the southern UK in the early weeks of July. There were sightings in West Sussex, Hampshire, and London at that time, indicating that the day of the flying ants might just have already passed this season.
How many times a year do flying ants come out?
Good question. With that officially designated “Day of the Flying Ants,” you might be thinking that the appearance of these irritating buzzers is once yearly. Not so. The truth is that flying ants are present in England for up to 96% of days between June and September. That’s according to the Royal Society of Biology, who claim that swarms of the creatures are regularly detected on weather radars throughout the whole summer.
Nat Geo puts it another way: Flying ant day is “really more of a short flying ant season.” The whole process of the nuptial flight and the forming of new colonies can happen anytime after May. It’s governed more by prevailing weather conditions than anything else – flying ants can’t really do their thing in heavy rain or excessive cold.
Are flying ants present all over England?
Since we’ve established that flying ants are actually just normal ants, only during a period of their lives when they sprout wings to leave behind their nest, it’s safe to say that they’re present all over England. In fact, they can be found all over the UK, from the southern counties on the English Channel all the way to the Highlands of Scotland.
But the same can’t be said for the phenomenon of the day of the flying ants. Swarming in such high numbers to get a whole day named after you isn’t something that happens from north to south, east to west. Experts tell us that mass swarming is a whole load more likely in the hotter, more humid parts of the UK. That means the southernmost counties and areas south of the Apennines.
Are flying ants in England dangerous?
No, flying ants are not dangerous to humans. They do bite. However, according to official NHS advice, those bites are “generally harmless, although you’ll probably feel a nip and a pale pink mark may develop on your skin.”
In some people more susceptible to mild ant venom, bites might turn itchy and swell a little. In that case, you can seek more expert medical attention.
Common advice is to go for an over-the-country antihistamine cream, which reduces swelling and irritation. In fact, it’s a good thing to pack for summer adventures to the UK anyhow, because it’s a great treatment for mosquito and gnat bites
How to get rid of flying ants?
There’s no tried-and-tested way to get rid of flying ants. What’s more, anything you do try probably won’t be worth it, since this is such a common species in the UK that they’re sure to be back and recolonising your garden in no time (and certainly after the next day of the flying ants!).
That said, it might be possible to use some home remedies to deter flying ants from landing in your garden and home. Some say spraying a vinegar solution on plants and lawns will keep the critters away. Others say dusting plants and objects with strong-smelling spices such as cayenne pepper will do the trick.
To be honest, the best solution is usually to simply wait it out. The summer certainly sees an increase in the movements and presence of flying ants all over England. But they’re sure to fully retreat back underground by the early weeks of autumn. No biggie.
Flying ants in England – a conclusion
Flying ants in England come out by the millions during the so-called day of the flying ants. It’s a strange phenomenon that typically occurs in the peak summer months between June and August, after long periods of hot, humid weather without any rainfall.
The event takes place at different times all over the UK, but mainly in the warmer southern part of England. It marks the moment when queen ants leave behind their parent colony to start new colonies elsewhere.
So, if you happen to be traveling Old Blighty at this time and see buzzing swarms of insects, don’t be startled. It’s a natural process and the creatures are totally harmless to humans. They should be gone in a matter of hours, and totally out of sight by the beginning of autumn.