If you’ve never seen a swarm of insects, flying and crawling around en masse, I don’t think I can describe it. But I’ll try.
I was reading to my daughter before bedtime yesterday when I noticed a million insects swirling in the air outside our patio window. We stepped out to see what was going on and see if we could get some photos and video.
Once we went back inside I was able to figure out that what we were seeing was male and female ants, emerging from their nests to mate. Swarms typically happen after heavy rain, which makes sense because we recently got a lot of rain after months of almost nothing. The large number of ants is because ants from multiple colonies typically emerge at one time. It may seem shocking but the ants that emerge were always there but out of sight.
The females, which are larger, mate with the smaller males and then rip their own wings off before going off to attempt establishing their own, new colony. Not all females are successful at this. The males die after mating.
I was lucky enough to capture a short video of a potential queen writhing on the ground, leaving her wings behind. I made a TikTok of it with other video and photos.
The swarms are harmless. Even with the ants flying and crawling all around us, they did nothing to hurt us. In fact, it’s beneficial because it provides a lot of food for birds and other animals.
I’m in a Minnesota Naturalist group on Facebook and there were multiple posts about swarms like the one we saw. Some were confusing the ants with termites. For one, termites are shaped differently, with more rectangle-shaped body. Secondly, depending on where you are in Minnesota, there are few to no termites in this state, which live more in the south. So while you might spot termites in Minnesota, it’s more uncommon than ant swarms.
Personally, I found the swarm fascinating and so did my daughter. But then, as she says, “we’re weird.” That’s OK, weird is interesting and fun, just like ant queens ripping off their wings.