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Flying Ant Day comes early

Records are needed for the Society of Biology's flying ant survey. The UK's garden ants are currently taking to the air in spectacular style, earlier than usual. Records are coming in for the Society of Biology's flying ant survey, and more are needed. Last year's survey revealed not one but two main flying ant days, the first of which was 24th July, and it may be that we see the same in 2013.

Professor Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire is part of the 2nd year of the flying ant survey, and believes the warm weather has caused the flying ants' early appearance. He says: "Each summer flying ants erupt from the ground seemingly without warning, as new queens leave the nest to mate and found their own colonies.

"They often emerge simultaneously over large parts of the country, and many people know this as ‘flying ant day', but we wanted to find out whether there really is one single day. Interestingly, in 2012 there were two main flying ant days, two weeks apart. But is this the same in other years?

"The time between the two peaks was a period of low pressure, which is usually associated with clouds, wind and rain. It could be that this weather kept some flying ants in their nests waiting for a suitable day, in which case we may not see the double peak again this year."

Most flying ants we are seeing at the moment are the black garden ant (Lasius niger). Despite its size, the black garden ant has a huge impact on our countryside, from improving soil to pollination and pest control. They are also important as food; last year survey participants reported gulls and swifts feasting on the flying ants.

Much of what we know about ants comes from experiments which scientists can perform. Collecting information about ant emergences around the UK, however, relies on lots of people submitting their records.

Dr Rebecca Nesbit, Press Officer at the Society of Biology and entomologist, says: "Last year the Society of Biology received well over 6,000 reports in the first flying ant survey, and this year we look set to beat that. We are extremely grateful to everyone who has sent in their records - please keep them coming!"

The 2012 survey produced very valuable data, but it is important to run the survey for multiple years to help understand how and why the timing of emergence changes.

Christina Catlin-Groves, a PhD student at the University of Gloucestershire, says: "Last year's findings are just the tip of the iceberg. We just have one year's worth of data and with the unusual summer of 2012 we really need more years to let us build up the bigger picture. It will be exciting to see what this year brings so please keep an eye out for flying ants and fill in our survey online."

The Society of Biology is asking everyone who sees flying ants in 2013 to make a note of the time, date, location and weather conditions, and submit records through an online survey www.societyofbiology.org/flyingantsurvey. Anyone who takes photos of flying ants can share them by emailing Christina Catlin-Groves (flyingants2012@gmail.com). Pictures and experiences can also be shared on Twitter using the hashtag #flyingantsurvey, and photos tagged ‘flyingantsurvey' on Flickr will be uploaded to our Flickr group. Anyone who wants to send in a flying ant for positive identification can sign up for a sample tube at www.societyofbiology.org/flyingantsurvey, thanks to funding from the Royal Entomological Society.

The Society of Biology (www.societyofbiology.org) is a professional body for bioscientists - providing a single unified voice for biology: advising Government and influencing policy; advancing education and professional development; supporting their members, and engaging and encouraging public interest in the life sciences.

Biology Week (www.societyofbiology.org/biologyweek) will take place on 12th-18th October, organised by the Society of Biology. Events around the country will give everyone the chance to learn about biology, the science of the 21st Century.

The flying ants most commonly seen in the UK are the males and new queens of the black garden ant (Lasius niger), the most common ant species in the UK. The ants we see throughout the year are workers (sterile females), but flying ants are males and new queens undergoing their nuptial flight. Queens can live for around 10-15 years and only mate once. Having mated, a new queen will drop her wings then start her own colony. Despite its size, the black garden ant has a huge impact on our countryside, from improving soil to pollination and pest control. They are also important as food; many people are alerted to the presence of flying ants by the sound of feasting gulls. For more information on the flying ant survey please visit www.societyofbiology.org/flyingantsurvey. For more information about the black garden ant please visit http://societyofbiologyblog.org/black-garden-ant/.

The University of Gloucestershire (www.glos.ac.uk) gained official university status in 2001 but has existed as an educational establishment for nearly 200 years. Our heritage lies in the Mechanics Institutes of the 1830s, with our Francis Close Hall campus founded in 1847 as the Cheltenham Training College. Today, we have three thriving campuses, Francis Close Hall and The Park in Cheltenham, and Oxstalls in Gloucester, which are home to approximately 10,000 students. In 2010, the University invested £5 million in teaching facilities including a new, state-of-the-art media and art and design studios.

The University of Gloucestershire delivers approximately 100 undergraduate course choices including accounting, law, business and management, fine art, TV production, humanities, leisure and tourism, social work and education plus and a diverse range of postgraduate and research degrees, and professional courses.

The Royal Entomological Society (www.royensoc.co.uk) was founded in 1833 as the Entomological Society of London and is the successor to a number of short-lived societies dating back to 1745. The aim of the Society is "the improvement and diffusion of entomological science". To achieve this, the Society organises meetings and events across the UK, for entomologists and the general public. They publish seven peer-reviewed scientific journals as well as a series of Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects, a benchmark series for taxonomic identification. The RES also supports entomological expeditions, maintains a large library and hosts international scientific meetings, such as the European Congress of Entomology.

The RES also organises National Insect Week, an initiative to engage people with insects and those that study them, supported by over 60 other organisations.

Source: University of Gloucestershire

 

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