While most ants are wingless and typically just crawl around, some ants do have wings and are in fact, capable of flight. At certain times of the year, mature colonies produce winged ants for the purpose of breeding and establishing new colonies.
In this article, we’ll further discuss what kind of ants grow wings, how they grow them, and why they specifically have wings.
What Kind Of Ants Have Wings?
Winged ants are reproductive ants called alates. These alates include male drones and virgin queens which are produced by mature colonies at certain times of the year to swarm in what’s called the nuptial flight. There these ants meet up with other reproductive ants to mate and establish the next generation of ant colonies.
Just to be clear, winged ants aren’t a separate ant species. In fact, most ant species actually produce winged alates. The alates of certain common ants such as fire and carpenter ants for example, grow wings and are capable of flying.
That said, there are some species which produce wingless reproductive ants as they don’t participate in a nuptial flight but establish colonies through a different method called budding.
How Do Ants Grow Wings?
Ants don’t grow wings in the sense that mature ants suddenly grow them when it’s time to reproduce. Keep in mind that the ants we typically see are sterile female workers, so they don’t actually even qualify as alates. Instead, the presence of wings is determined in the early life stages of the ant life cycle.
For example, male drones are produced from unfertilized eggs. Queens on the other hand, come from the very same eggs that produce worker ants. The difference though, is that queens are fed more as larvae. These slight differences factor into whether or not ants emerge from the pupal stage as winged adults.
Why Do Some Ants Have Wings?
Given that some ant colonies can expand through budding, are wings and the ability to fly even necessary at all? Well, budding and the nuptial flight are simply reproductive strategies that ant colonies adapt to fit their situation. While some use the former to avoid the risks of the nuptial flight, other ants need the latter to survive.
The presence of wings and ability to fly, for instance, allow certain ant species to disperse. Through dispersal, the queens of these species are able to locate and colonize new areas and resources which help them grow and expand their new colonies.
Dispersal also allows new queens to nest away from their maternal nests and prevent potential competition and conflict.
Lastly, dispersal also allows these queens to avoid inbreeding which research has shown to be detrimental to their overall fitness. Colonies prone to inbreeding eventually show signs of inbreeding depression as characterized by increased brood mortality and shortened queen lifespan.
Do Queen Ants Have Wings?
Queen ants have wings but only up to a certain point in their life cycle. As virgins, queen ants have wings to participate in the nuptial flight, where again, they mate with male drones. After mating however, these queens shed their wings as they look for suitable nesting sites where they’ll start laying eggs.
Why Do Ants Grow Wings After Rain?
Ants don’t actually grow wings after rain, it just seems that way as winged ants emerge from their nests after the rain to participate in the nuptial flight. Again, ants don’t grow wings out of nowhere as adults and the presence of wings is dictated by the earlier stages of their life cycle.
Do Carpenter Ants Have Wings?
Yes, carpenter ants have wings. They are one of the many ant species which develop wings for the purpose of reproduction and typically engage in the nuptial flight in late spring and early summer.
Do Fire Ants Have Wings?
Similar to carpenter ants, reproductive fire ants also have wings. Likewise, they also engage in nuptial flights during the spring and summer seasons.
Summary: Do Ants Have Wings?
Some ants have wings. Certain ant species produce winged ants for the purpose of breeding and establishing new colonies. These ants include reproductive male drones and virgin queens called alates, which participate in the nuptial flight, a mating flight where reproductive ants swarm and mate.