Ant-omology (Once More, Even)
I had suspected that something was about to happen.
For a couple of days or so now, the familiar patches of very fine earth had appeared around the paving slabs by the back corner of the house. A large patch had also appeared at the near corner of the back lawn as well, which I found slightly disobliging, but a hugely preferential sight to the kitty-cack which I still find in my garden far too often.
This could mean only one thing: 'my' ants were ready for their nuptial flight.
It's a mark of how clement a summer we've had that this event is taking place right at the beginning of the season for it rather than - as in previous years - in mid-to-late August.
(What is also a mark of the weather this year is that the grass and hedge have needed far more frequent attention than usual. They need doing again now, but with temperatures due to stay in the upper seventies Fahrenheit for a couple of weeks, I won't be doing anything unless I can do it in instalments at about eight in the morning).
So it was that I went outside shortly after seven this evening to find hundreds of ants milling about with a high proportion of them winged. I watched, almost hypnotised, as dozens upon dozens of new breeding males and females launched themselves into the air.
Two points of interest emerged from this: firstly, that - in contrast to previous observations - they headed not east into the garden of the house behind mine, but directly south or south-west over the hedge and the road and onwards to the gardens of the houses up the side; and, secondly, that the height they achieved was quite astonishing, some reaching as high as the eaves of the house. This, if I've worked it out right, would be the equivalent of my attaining a height of around sixteen hundred feet.
One or two got caught in a cobweb on the washing-line post, and only a tiny minority of those who leaped the hedge will ever succeed, but Nature once again displays her inescapable fecundity and proves how arrogant we are in assuming we could ever do anything other than merely negotiate with her rather than thinking we can dominate.
Update (18/07/21): I went out of the back door just after three this afternoon to find further mad activity, this time from the corner of the back lawn (an area I now think of as 'the extension'). There were the same masses of winged specimens taking off and - like yesterday evening - they were nearly all heading southwards. Some of the more enterprising were climbing the taller blades of grass to get themselves an advantage, something which made the grass seem to shimmer from the translucence of the ants' wings. Here's a little bit of what it looked like:
Quite a few of the new breeders seemed to perform a sort of dance before they set off, but another possible explanation is that the ordinary ants around them were, as it were, nipping at their heels in order to impel them to leave.
I took some video of it, but the low quality meant that the ants ascending over the hedge just looked like nothing more than upwardly-mobile greyish sleet.
I don't know if that is now 'it' for the year. I hope it is because otherwise it's going to put a crimp into the cutting of the grass thereabouts, as I am reluctant to disturb them from either practical or ethical considerations.