The nuptial flight of the worlds most dangerous ant.
The spectacle of a nuptial flight of any Myrmecia species is a special event. We were lucky enough to be there on the day that the worlds most dangerous ant, Myrmecia pyriformis took to the sky.
We had been monitoring several nests for a few weeks and had noticed numerous alates near the nest entrance. We were confident they would fly soon. On a fairly mild autumn day after heavy rain the nests were unusually inactive. After heavy rain most Myrmecia will be busily cleaning and clearing debris that the rain has washed into their nests. We had witnessed this in other species of Myrmecia on the day, but not pyriformis. We're also used to seeing huge amounts of ants swarming before their nuptial flight and there were no signs of any workers in and around the nests. We had lost hope that they would fly. Before giving up we decided to check one more nest that we knew had been fairly active a few days prior to the rain. To our surprise there were almost a dozen alates gathering at the nest entrance.
The nuptial flight began at around 1:30pm and lasted 2 hours. There were approximately 10 nests in our vicinity and most of them were large and well established. Once we noticed the ants flying, a quick check of the nests we were familiar with demonstrated that nearly every one had some alates massing near the entrances. We decided to focus on one nest for the rest of the day rather than running between them. Male alates were taking turns at taking off from the top of the dirt mound they had created as their nest.
One after another for over 2 hours alates would exit the nest, climb to the top of the mound and then clumsily take to the air.Wee witnessed over 100 alates at this one nest alone.
The male alates looked like huge hornets at over 25mm in length. We tracked a few males in the air and watched the direction they would fly. It was easy to see them, their big bulky black bodies contrasted with the bright blue sky. Almost all of the males would fly in random directions and head straight for nearby trees. They would land on the first available branch and then sit for awhile before taking off again. We weren't sure how high they were flying as they would disappear from sight before mating.
Heading over to another nest we knew had alate activity, we watched as more winged ants appeared. This nest was different to the other. It was predominantly underground with a light covering of loose debris the ants would often cover their nest with. The main feature was a large tree at the edge of the nest. The alates would exit the nest, head straight for the tree and start climbing. The tree was easily 30m-40m in height and we followed them until they reached the top. Once they arrived at the apex they launched themselves into the sky. Several would crash into tree branches and tumble back down to the ground where they would immediately head for the same tree and restart the arduous 5 minute journey back to the top.
We were still desperate to see them mating and continued to watch them flying. After some time we watched as birds in the area began to pick them off high in the sky at roughly 100m. Much too far for us to actually see the ants.
We spent the next few hours searching for dealates queens but had no luck.
In the coming weeks we would find over a dozen queens in their founding chambers scattered around the property.
Time will tell if these huge ants will live to start their own colonies.