In my earlier master thesis work on cycles I wrote about different kinds of natural cycles. One of the examples was the yearly event for ant colonies when the drones leave the nest.
Today was this day again, at least in our garden and around the house here in London. Hundreds of ants (black garden ant (Lasius niger)) winged individuals flying in the air in search of a mating partner. Then the female ants loose their wings and find a place to start a new colony, were as the males die.
Both female and male winged ants are produced by the colony as reproducers and it is a big effort for the colony to bring up this large number of individuals that will once ready leave the nest, but are not taking part in the supporting activities.
The date and time they leave the nest depends heavily on the conditions. It is mainly the temperature that is important. This is to ensure that the ants can fly (not raining) and that after the female ants loose their wings they have enough time to find a new nesting place.
“Disparities between local weather conditions can cause nuptial flights to be out of phase amongst widespread populations of L. niger. During long-lasting, hot summers, flights can take place simultaneously across the country, but overcast weather with local patches of sunshine results in a far less synchronised emergence of alates (winged individuals).” (from wikipedia)
Image by urbanTick - ant discarding the wings
Great information on ants on antblog or The Kurt Kuene Antpage. The ant bible would be The Superorganism by Bert Hoelldobler and E.O. Wilson. They do not agree on everything, but they make a great team. They have published a number of books including The Ants in 1997.
Ants have featured earlier this year in a blog post, in relation with tracking and how they leave informations on their trail for fellow ants.