An unusual insect hatching event along the north shore Friday afternoon prompted people to flee several popular beaches to escape swarms of what they described as flying ants.
Kris Pierce was at Jetties Beach around 5:45 p.m. when “all of a sudden there was a ‘hatching’ of some type of flying insect. It cleared the beach. They were in the parking lot swarming. I have never seen anything like it.”
Farther west along the north shore, Francis Muise was spending time with family and friends near Warren’s Landing beach.
“At around 5:30 p.m. the flying ants showed up and at first we tried to wait it out thinking they might disappear but then they just got thicker and thicker,” Muise said. “At one point I bet you I had 30 of them on me. I was having a panic attack trying to throw everything in the vehicles so we could leave. My daughters were making fun of me. We loaded the car as fast as we could and got the hell out of there. Everybody that was on the beach was getting attacked and covered with flying ants.”
As Muise was driving down Warren’s Landing Road to leave, another family in a Jeep stopped him to ask if he had seen flying ants at the beach because they had just left Smith’s Point to escape a swarm.
Seth Engelbourg, the naturalist educator at the Linda Loring Nature Foundaiton, said over the weekend that he had also heard of the hatching event on social media. While he emphasized that he is not an entomologist and that an expert may be able to provide more insights, Engelbourg said “it appears to be a formicine ant, not sure what species though. They are known to emerge in warm summer months, especially on still days for ‘nuptial’ flights.”
The phenomenon is so common in the United Kingdom it even has a name: “Flying Ant Day.”
Christopher Terrell Nield, principal lecturer for bioscience at Nottingham Trent University wrote that “swarming is triggered by temperature and often occurs after summer rain, ants over a large area can appear on the same day if conditions are similar across it. Millions can be on the wing, and after a short or much longer flight, can land anywhere – on trees, cars and clothing. Plenty more get eaten.”