Today is the day of the ants. Everywhere across London, conditions are perfect and the ants are swarming. There is a bit of wind, it’s warm, it’s not going to rain. All the colonies blow out all at the same time, reducing the chances of predation, raising the chances of interbreeding. They have bred a huge number of virgin queens and winged males per colony. The males exist purely to inseminate the queen, who will attract as many as she can in a short space of time. Sex for these ants takes place on the wing, and the male essentially explodes his own testicles into the queen and dies shortly thereafter. The queen will eventually settle. She will shed her wings and ground herself forever in order to become a mother. She will never fly again. She will try to found a new colony, and the stored up semen from all of those kamikaze males with their explosive balls – that will serve for the life of the colony, giving birth to hundreds of thousands of ants. But she only wants the strong males so she makes them fly for it. And statistically her chances of founding the colony successfully are around 1 in a million. More likely she’ll land on a road or get eaten by a bird or hit a spiderweb or get killed by a rival queen. This day ain’t a celebration. It’s a war.
What this means practically is that you are going to get ants in your hair. You are going to get them on your glasses. Down your shirt. In your drink. In your shoes. In your mouth. And they don’t give a fuck. It’s not like they have a survival instinct. The males are just zooming around chasing pheromones and hoping not to die before they have their explosive moment but they haven’t perspective on the world. They land where they land. The queens have just been born, and after today are going to be either dead or protected at the heart of a colony. It’s like Fresher’s Week at university. Thousands of clueless animals randomly banging around trying to have sex with as many people as possible. Survival of the fittest. May the best ant win, so we can pour boiling water into her statistically unlikely successful colony and say “That’ll sort the little fuckers out.”
Ant colonies are amazing. Let’s just take a moment. They are basically just that one queen. She breeds what she needs with her massive semen stash. But all those individual ants are pretty much just extensions of her. It looks like millions of separate creatures, but in reality it is just that queen, and the ants are her external organs. Kill her and the colony loses purpose and dies.
My skin is crawling as I write this because they keep going down the back of my bright T-shirt. I’m in Hampstead, near the heath. Despite the fact that I live in a house with a fridge in the middle of the living room and piles of pants outside the kitchen door, I am tidying my friends flat because she has an Airbnb guest in tomorrow and I’m her key holder. I can tidy when it’s not for me. But sitting out here, despite it being beautiful, is risky. I went shopping earlier to get milk and bread and so forth and almost inhaled a horny male ant. Another one refused to get off my glasses while his mate went down the back of my T-shirt and wandered around in the bit that’s hard to scratch. Still, I’m happy to be outside. The tumble drier is tumbling, and the robot hoover is robot hoovering, so I am having a bottle of Corona and listening to the wood pigeons.
It’s peaceful here. This little corner of London near the heath. And on this evening of perfect flying ant conditions, sound is carrying a long way on the wind. I can hear the banging of pans, children playing, the inevitable cars and planes but also the chatter of nature. All the birds, happy after their formic feast, are krarrking to themselves in the dusk. And a rain cloud suddenly passes overhead. Is this why the ants swarmed? Are we reaching a change from this absolute delight of a summer that we have enjoyed? Or is this just a spit to refresh the lawns? Either way, I’m going in. Happy flying ant day.