Thursday 8 June 2017

Nuptial Flight 2017 - what you need to know about 'Flying Ant Day' in the UK

At least once a year, one of the most amazing natural phenomenon occurs across the UK (and the world): nuptial flight, also more affectionately known as 'flying ant day'.

Before we talk about our latest book, Nuptial Flight: The London Vampire Conspiracy, it is important to explore more about this process in detail, examine why it's important and consider how this possibly links to John Michaelson's allegory about ants and vampires.

The following is adapted from Wikipedia:

"Flying ant day" is an informal term for the day on which queen ants emerge from the nest to begin their nuptial flight.  In most species, smaller male ants fly alongside them and are less noticeable. During their flight, the queens cover varying distances before mating and dropping to the ground.  They then shed their wings and attempt to found a new colony. 

The flight typically requires clear weather since rain is disruptive for flying insects. Different colonies of the same species often use environmental cues to synchronise the release of males and queens so that they can mate with individuals from other nests, thus avoiding inbreeding.  The actual "take off" from the parent colony is also often synchronised to overwhelm their predators.

During flight, the queens release pheromones to attract males. However, the queens often try to escape the males, allowing only the fastest and the fittest to mate with them. Mating takes place during flight and one queen usually mates with several males. The sperm is stored in a special organ, known as a spermatheca, in the queen's abdomen, and lasts throughout her lifetime. This can be as long as 20 years, during which time the sperm can be used to fertilise tens of millions of eggs!

Once they have landed they attempt to start a new colony. The details of this vary from species to species, but typically involve the excavation of the colony's first chamber and the subsequent laying of eggs. From this point the queen continuously lays eggs which hatch into larvae, exclusively destined to develop into worker ants. The queen usually nurses the first brood alone. After the first workers appear, the queen's role in the colony typically becomes one of exclusive (and generally continuous) egg-laying. 

Queen ants have an extremely high failure rate. During its lifetime a very large ant colony can send out millions of virgin queens. Assuming that the total number of ant colonies in the area remains constant, on average only one of these queens succeeds. The rest are destroyed by predators (most notably other ants), environmental hazards or failures in raising the first brood at various stages of the process. This strict selection ensures that the queen has to be both extremely fit and extremely lucky to pass on her genes to the next generation.

In the UK, nuptial flight occurs typically during the summer months and on one day, although recent research by the Royal Society of Biology has concluded that variations occur in different regions.  More can be found below this post.

Nuptial Flight: The London Vampire Conspiracy (12th June 2017 - Burton Mayers Books)

John Michaelson's cryptic new book

John Michaelson has always had a fascination with ants.  At first we thought he was just trying to be poetic, but in fact - having edited both books - we can see now what he was trying to suggest much more.  The vampires he hunts are defined by him as ants because they exhibit similar characteristics; there are a group who exist within London who are exclusively trying to found new colonies of vampires.  Furthermore, we believe he defines these modern day vampires as ants because it allows him to dehumanise them and thus make extermination of them that little bit more guilt-free.  

Indeed, having read Nuptial Flight you might reach your own conclusions about whether Michaelson himself is a virgin queen or not, trying his best to ensure his own colony survives the competition that exists in the UK's dangerous capital.  The conspiracy, of course, runs much deeper and darker than we are prepared to let on.  

Nuptial Flight is available from all good bookstores and a Kindle version is also available. Michaelson's first book, October's Son, introduced us all to a world where our perceptions of vampires were radically challenged. 

Below is a snapshot of the Royal Society of Biology's Nuptial Flight investigation -  Visit the full page here

150802 ants Shropshire Richard PrewFlying ants often seem to appear on the same day in different locations in the UK – flying ant day.

Ants aerate soil, help to cycle nutrients, improve garden fertility and control pests. Most ant colonies start with a flying ant - when young queens leave the nest to found their own colony.

However, after five years of our flying ant survey, we have found that flying ant day isn’t as predictable as we had at first thought.David sawflyingants
If you see flying ants during the summer months, send us a picture of the ants and another of you holding an 'I just saw flying ants' sign, via Twitter or Facebook using #flyingantsurvey or via email.