Fruit flies, houseflies, and—heaven forbid—wasps are bad enough when they invade your house. Now, you may have to contend with flying ants. It might sound like a total nightmare, particularly when they swarm while mating, but luckily, these winged creatures aren't at all dangerous. And controlling the population, while frustrating, isn't as hard as it seems.
Just because you find a few flying ants in your home, it doesn't mean that you're about to experience an ant invasion. Male flying ants die immediately after mating, and not all queen ants will survive to start a new colony.
What Is a Flying Ant?
Flying ants are not a unique species of ant, but rather one developmental phase common to all ant species. Flying ants, or ‟alates,” are male and female ants that have reached sexual maturity. These ants fly out of their colonies with the goal of mating. They are normally most active in the warm days of late spring and summer, and the behavior often leads to new colonies being formed.
3 Ways to Get Rid of Flying Ants
Handle the Immediate Problem
You can get rid of obvious swarms with a vacuum, whether a handheld or full-sized vacuum with a hose attachment. Immediately remove the vacuum bag and get it out of the house so the ants can't find their way back inside.
Spray pesticides will also kill visible ants, both crawling and flying. But these will not affect the hidden colony, which will continue breeding more ants until it is addressed. Sprays should be used with great caution when used indoors.
If you feel strongly about the safety of commercial pest treatment, try a natural version by mixing dish soap and peppermint oil. Fill a spray bottle with one part liquid soap, two parts water, and a few drops of oil, and then spray the ants and the surrounding area. The soap immobilizes and eventually dehydrates the insect, while the peppermint oil suffocates them.
Attack the Colony
As with any ant infestation, you will not rid your home of all the ants unless you attack the colony where they are breeding. This colony is the source of the flying ants, and is best addressed by setting ant bait. Ant bait is generally a sweet substance mixed with borax or another substance that disrupts the ants' reproduction cycle. The ants pick up the bait and take it back to the nest, where it kills the entire colony.
As an alternative, insecticidal dust can be injected into the area where the ants are living. This is a solution best handled by a professional exterminator, and it requires that you pinpoint the exact location of the ant colony.
Replace Damaged Wood
If you see a swarm of winged ants indoors—especially if you spot them during the winter months when they are most likely breeding—there is a strong likelihood that there is a carpenter ant nest within your home. That can be quite a serious problem, as carpenter ants are second only to termites in their ability to do structural damage. Flying carpenter ants are larger than normal house ants, as much as 1 inch long.
If carpenter ants are the species infesting your home, it's important to remove and replace any rotten, decaying wood in the walls or under the floors, as this decaying material is what fosters the ant colony. This can sometimes be quite an involved project if the damage is extensive, probably requiring the work of a professional contractor. But you can't guarantee that you've fully rid your home of carpenter ants unless you have removed the decaying wood that they nest in.
Ant baits are generally fairly harmless substances, but you should still take precautions to set them in areas where pets and children can't reach them. Ant baits contain sweet substances that attract ants and which can also be tasty to pets. Some insecticidal sprays and dusts are mildly toxic to pets and humans and should be used carefully and selectively—aimed directly at visible ants, not applied indiscriminately.
What Causes Flying Ants?
Flying ants are found in the home for the same reason as crawling ants: there are sources of food and moisture and areas for establishing colonies. Most species of ants feed on ordinary food substances, and they can colonize in almost any dark, hidden area. If you see flying ants, it means the hidden colony is well established, capable of fostering reproducing ants.
However, if you identify carpenter ants, it's because they have found decaying wood somewhere in your home, probably hidden in the walls near ground level or under the floors. Carpenter ants don't eat this decaying wood like termites do, but they use it to carve out tunnels and galleries in which to nest. The presence of carpenter ants means there is decaying wood somewhere.
How to Prevent Flying Ants
The best way to prevent any ant species from infesting your home is to eliminate food sources. Make sure foods are kept stored in closed containers, and keep floors and countertops uniformly clean. Sweet or greasy materials are especially attractive to ants. Make sure pet foods are stored in tight containers, and keep spilled pet foods swept up.
Even if you think the ant problem has been treated, there's always the potential for another swarm in the future. Seal any cracks around the windows and baseboards or in the walls to stop a possible second invasion.
To prevent carpenter ants, make sure to regularly inspect and repair decaying wood. Structural walls near ground level can be especially prone to rot, especially in warm, damp climates and when homes are built on slab foundations.
Flying Ants vs. Termites
Flying ants take flight to mate, gathering in massive clusters, then return to an existing nest or seek out a new one. Flying ants do not bite, and they pose no danger to humans. However, winged ants look a lot like termites—a pest that can be a significant problem if you don't treat them properly. Identify the insects by looking for key features:
- Termites: The wings are an equal length, the antennae are straight, as is the abdomen.
- Flying ants: The wings are unequal in length, the antennae are bent, and the abdomen is thin, with a clearly visible "waist."
While carpenter ants will carve out tunnels and galleries in decaying wood in order to nest, termites actually consume the wood, which means the damage they cause can be much more severe.
Do flying ants bite?
Most species of ants are not stinging insects, though some can inflict bites, usually defensively. Unlike mosquitoes and some flies, ants that have taken to the air have no interest in biting you.
How long do flying ants live?
The flying phase of an ant's lifecycle last just a day or two for males, but the female may continue flying until it mates, at which time it severs its own wings and begins crawling to seek a new nesting spot. Females that become established as queens may live as long as 30 years for some species.
When should I call a professional?
When all else fails, call a professional. Pest treatment companies can take further measures to eliminate flying ants and the colony they came from. This may be the only solution if your infestation is an extensive colony of carpenter ants or termites.
Reading Product Labels
Boric acid or other borates are usually mixed with sugar or syrup to make baits attractive to ants. These baits lure forager ants that bring the bait back to the colony, where it kills all ants, including the flyers. Boric acid is fairly low in toxicity to people and animals, but it is toxic to plants. This is one of the safer choices you can make for a commercial ant bait.
Indoxacarb baits are used for fire ant control and are packaged as granular formulations. Indoxacarb is designated by the EPA to be a “reduced-risk” pesticide.
Methoprene and pyriproxyfen are insect growth regulators that inhibit the development of insects from one stage to the next. They are used primarily for the control of fire ants. Growth regulators can be toxic to fish and aquatic life. Make sure to dispose of baits in a manner that prevents them from reaching water supplies.
Hydramethylnon is found in many baits packaged as gels, liquids, and granules, and is used for Argentine ants, carpenter ants, fire ants, and others. The EPA has classified hydramethylnon as a possible (group C) human carcinogen.
Imidacloprid, clothianidin, acetamiprid, and thiamethoxam are neonicotinoid pesticides, used mostly to control indoor ants as a gel or liquid formula. Neonicotinoids are somewhat toxic to humans and can be absorbed through the skin.
Fipronil is used for the control of fire ants, Argentine ants, and carpenter ants, among others. Products are formulated as gels, granular, liquids, and impregnated materials. Fipronil has been classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the EPA.
Metaflumizone baits are used for fire ant control in granular and pelleted products. This insecticide is characterized by low acute toxicity in human and other mammals.
Fenoxycarb is used in some products targeting fire ants, packaged as granular formulations. This insect growth regulator is low in toxins for humans and birds but can harm fish and aquatic life.
Peppermint and Peppermint Oil Profile. New York State Integrated Pest Management / Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Insects in the City. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
Boric Acid General Fact Sheet. National Pesticide Information Center, OSU Extension Services / U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Pesticides - Fact Sheet for Indoxacarb. United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Methoprene General Fact Sheet. National Pesticide Information Center, OSU Extension Services / U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Hydramethylnon. National Pesticide Information Center, OSU Extension Services / U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Indoor Ant Control. Pesticide Research Institute.
Fipronil. National Pesticide Information Center, Oregon State University / U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Khakame Shem K. et al. Baseline Toxicity of Metaflumizone and Lack of Cross Resistance Between Indoxacarb and Metaflumizone in Diamondback Moth (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae), Journal of Economic Entomology, vol. 106, no. 3, 2013, pp. 1423–1429. doi:10.1603/EC12494
Fenoxycarb. European Bioinformatics Institute.