Central Illinois is still a frozen tundra- we’re below normal temps this week, alas- but we myrmecophiles are starting to perk up. In particular, we’re waiting for this:
No event marks the beginning of North American ant season better than the mating flights of winter ants, Prenolepis imparis. Winged queens and males have overwintered deep underground, and on warm days around this time of year they issue forth in great numbers. Males and queens from different nests hook up for a few moments, after which the males perish and the females fly off to look for promising sites to start a new colony.
On a March or April day with temperatures above 60º, look for a fluttering of gauzy wings in the grass and plump reddish females about a centimeter or so long being pestered by smaller, darker, waspy-looking males. This natural history drama plays out even in urban yards and parks, an easily-observed spring ritual. For those thinking about keeping a pet ant colony, the Prenolepis flight offer the first opportunity of the year to capture newly mated queens.