Flying ants are not a separate species of ants. They are simply ants at a particular stage of life — specifically, the mating stage. Not every individual ant goes through this stage. Males who go through this stage die soon after mating. Most female flying ants also die soon after mating, but a few become queen ants, losing their wings and then laying eggs for the rest of their lives to populate their colonies.
Ant colonies consist of queen ants that lay eggs and potentially thousands of worker ants that are sterile, wingless females. In ant species that reproduce sexually, after the colony is well-established, the queen ant will produce a small number of winged females and many more males. This usually occurs once a year and at the same time as in nearby ant colonies, often after several days of heavy rains.
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The flying ants form various colonies then swarm around certain places in the area, usually a place of slightly higher elevation, such as a hill, tree or roof. This is sometimes referred to as hilltopping. Mating typically takes place within a single day. The males then die, and the females disperse to establish colonies or, in some rare cases, to return to their original colonies.
Only a very small percentage of female flying ants successfully establish colonies. Those that do survive can lay eggs throughout their lives — sometimes 20 years or more — after mating only once. The queen's only purpose is to lay eggs, and the worker ants that she produces perform duties such as building the nest and bringing her food.
Ants and Termites
Flying ants are sometimes mistaken for flying termites, and the opposite also is true. Termites, however, can be harmful to houses and other structures and are considered pests. Flying ants usually are more of a nuisance than harmful, although they might damage plants during their few days of infestation.
A person can tell the difference between a flying ant and a flying termite by looking closely at them. A flying ant has three distinct body parts, including a small thorax between its head and abdomen, but a flying termite has only a head and a main body. A flying ant also has bent antennae and two sizes of wing pairs. A termite's antennae are straight, and its wing pairs are the same size.