PEOPLE across Essex have reported swarms of flying ants this afternoon.

In what is dubbed as Flying Ant Day, millions of the critters take to the sky in an annual swaming event to create new colonies.

The Natural History Museum said the winged ants appear at different times around the country and local weather conditions are critical for the coordination of swarming activity.

Though it appears this year might be the exception.

Judging by social media this afternoon, parts of the country have experienced the flying ant phenomenon from Kettering to Carlisle. 

Southend Standard:

Closer to home in Essex, there have been numerous reports of the bugs making themselves known. 

Why is Flying Ant Day a thing?

Flying Ant Day is scientifically referred to as nuptial flight, the phenomena where virgin queens mate with males before starting new colonies.

For humans this basically means a large quantity of ants whizzing around. 

The natural event has been described as "early Christmas" for seagulls, who enjoy feasting on the insects.

While it has been dubbed 'Flying Ant Day', a project by the Royal Society of Biology found that the widely held idea is actually a misconception.

They found rather than a single day, it is more of a season. 

Swaming is triggered by the weather and tends to happen in July or August.

The study discovered that ants only flew on days when it was warm, not windy and conditions had improved compared to the previous day.

Southend Standard: Credit: Stewart WilsonCredit: Stewart Wilson

The interesting life of a flying ant 

Before the swarming or the nuptial flights, ants live in a colony in a nest and each have a specific job role. 

The queen lays the eggs while female workers look after the queen, eggs and larvae. They gather food, make their nest bigger and generally ensure the colony runs to plan.

Most of the eggs hatch into worker ants but when the colony is completed, the queen begins to produce virgin queens and males. 

When the winged males and virgin queens emerge from the nest, they scatter to maximise the chance of mating between different colonies. 

Southend Standard: Credit: Stewart WilsonCredit: Stewart Wilson

Once ants have mated, the role of the males is over. The mated queens quickly chew off their own wings and begin looking for a suitable site in which to nest and set up a new colony.

This is why you often see large ants walking around after a 'flying ant day' and may even see discarded wings scattered over pavements.

It usually happens at the end of July.

Why do ants sprout wings?

A new queen ant needs to leave the colony where she is born to found a new one. She also needs to mate. So, she leaves her nest with a number of flying male worker ants.

According to the Royal Society of Biology, the large numbers of flying ants which appear in a short space of time increase the chance of reproduction, because there is a very high chance a queen will encounter a male from another nest.

Then, to check he's worthy. she flies away from him, performing acrobatics to test his abilities to catch her.

When he does they mate in mid-air. This kills the male ant.

The Queen then lands to find somewhere to start a new colony. She loses her wings after just one day.