Flying Ant Day looks to be upon us in certain parts of Devon today.
In Exeter, the airborne insects were seen in large clusters throughout the city and the surrounding countryside.
But another telltale sign was the large flocks of seagulls circling wildly overhead.
Scientists have suggested the ants produce an acid that gets the birds “slightly” drunk – and – an RSPB gull expert has said gulls are ‘mad for them’ and gobble them up like ‘M&Ms’, which can cause them to be even more excitable than usual.
In 2013, Dr Rebecca Nesbit from the Society of Biology, told The Telegraph: “Some of the slightly odd behaviour we are seeing could be as a result of these ants – it could leave the gulls slightly drunk.
“It’s possible because we know that some ants produce formic acid, and it could be having an effect.
But the seagulls needn’t go into a feeding frenzy – there are usually plenty of the ants to go around. Last year, the Exeter-based Met Office revealed the ants took to the skies in such huge numbers that they formed a cloud that could be seen from space.
RSPB gull expert Tony Whitehead said the ants leave the gulls distracted and excitable and they forget to look where they are going.
He said: “The gulls are mad for them. There has been a massive emergence of the ants over the last three days and they are like little treats for the gulls.
This can lead to gulls stealing food from people’s hands and raiding bins. There were also reports of seagulls getting so ‘wasted’ they flew into buildings or into the paths of cars.
However Tony disagrees. He said: “It was said at one point that they made them drunk, but actually I think they just make them very happy.
“I think rather than drunk, I think they are distracted and happy and focusing on eating ants rather than looking out for cars for example.”
What is Flying Ant Day?
Male and female ants will sprout wings and venture out of their nests, seeking ants from other colonies to mate with.
It’s a giant ant party, in many respects, with millions enjoying their “nuptial flight”.
“They are like M&Ms to them. They go to wherever they are.
“They either pick them off the ground, or sometimes you see big flocks randomly flying everywhere through the skies to pick them out.
And an increase in attacks and nuisance behaviour by seagulls has been reported in the past, reportedly due them getting ‘drunk’ on the formic acid created by the large number of flying ants they gorge themselves on – and losing their inhibitions.
Why does it happen, though?
Experts say the nuptial flight is a crucial part of the insect’s developments, allowing them to reproduce and spawn scores of other creatures.
During the flight, virgin queens mate with males and then land to start a new colony.
The large numbers of flying ants which appear in a short space of time increase the chance of reproduction.
What species are the ants?
If you’re swatting away the little creatures from your white work shirt, you’ll be interested to know the variety is known as the Lasius niger, or black garden ant.
More facts about flying ants
Their nests have a single queen and typically around 5,000 workers.
This figure can stretch to three times that number, though.
The ants you see over the course of the year will be mostly workers collecting food for their colony – and they are all female.
They survive for about a month, while the flying ants you see once a year are males and young queens.
Queens can live for over 10 years and spend most of their lives in their nest.
New queens, however, will leave to mate and found a colony of their own.
When will it occur?
It is thought Flying Ant Day occurs when a spell of wet weather is followed closely by hot humid weather.