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Winged ants not harmful to yard, pets

About Jessica Walliser
Picture Jessica Walliser
Freelance Columnist
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Tribune-Review Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts 'The Organic Gardeners' at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including 'Grow Organic' and 'Good Bug, Bad Bug.'

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By Jessica Walliser

Published: Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012

Q: Occasionally during late summer/early fall I see hatches of what looks like a winged ant coming from areas of my lawn. When I locate the actual hatch area in the lawn, I find hundreds of the "flying ants" coming out of the lawn and taking flight. I spray organic insecticides on the area and it will slow or stop the hatching temporarily. After a short time, the hatching will restart. What are the bugs• Are they harmful to our dog• How do I prevent future hatches?

A: Since ants are not considered to be a garden pest, my knowledge of them is limited, and so I headed to an expert for his advice about your issue. Scott Creary is an entomologist with Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Oakland. "Ant swarming in summer is a totally natural and harmless occurrence," he says. "What this person is likely seeing is the winged male ants -- and a few unmated queens -- emerging en masse."

The wingless ants we commonly see are workers and are not capable of reproduction. As a result, every few years, any given ant colony begins to generate winged individuals capable of reproduction. In late summer, these winged adults hit the skies to establish new colonies, very few of which survive to the point of establishment.

"All the males of any given species emerge over the same span of a couple days, so you can end up seeing some pretty awesome numbers out there," Creary says. He also notes that these winged males are especially pronounced after a couple days of heavy rain, which makes the soil easier for the ants to excavate.

Creary says any fears about these insects are unfounded. They are not harmful to you, your pets or your home. "Ants are one of the most numerous and beneficial insects in the soil, aerating the ground and providing valuable nutrient cycling. These swarms are not going to result in a massive upswing in total ant populations; most males die in a day or two anyway. Control techniques are not warranted."

However, these winged ants are commonly mistaken for termites, which also have a winged, reproductive form. Annual winged termite emergence, however, happens mostly in spring and most often occurs indoors. An easy way to tell the difference is to have a look at the antennae: winged termites have very straight antennae while winged ants have an elbow-like bend in them. If you find winged termites in your home, it could be a sign of an infestation.

 

 
 


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