Conditions have to be just about perfect for ants (called ‘formigas’ in Portugal) to take to the air – after all, they are not only land based insects, but underground based, so why suddenly lift off? And they are huge juicy looking things too. I watched some in my garden the other day, and some had landed and were actually running around trying to shed their wings, some had shed one wing and looked like they were frantically running round to get rid of the other one, I likened them to someone struggling to get an arm out of a sweater that was too small!

All ant species have some ants who develop wings and fly, and when the ant colony is naturally ready to expand, the mature winged ants get ready to take centre stage, and like an alarm has gone off, they all get the message to leave home. Their sole purpose in life now is to mate, and the females will then start a new colony.

The weather conditions have to be just right – bright sunlight, low wind, high humidity and warm temperatures, preferably after 3 or 4 days of rain – all conditions we have had recently - and bingo, off they went, great swarms of them, flying and landing, some getting picked off by birds, some successful, some not, some drowning in puddles or pools.

These are sexually mature ants, called ‘alates’ by entomologists. They are the “reproducers’ of the colony, created by the ‘queen’ and fed by the ‘workers’. They go through their immature stages developing inside of the colony, and when the ant colony is naturally ready to expand, the winged ants get ready to take the stage. The males and females of all the colonies simultaneously fly out to mate, or as close together as possible. They create mating aggregations called ‘hilltopping’ around trees, bushes, chimneys, towers, trucks and other large or high structures, and this increases their chances of finding a mate and the successful fertilization of the queens-to-be.

Incredibly, a queen ant can live for decades, the males just a week. Once underground, the queens will not eat for weeks – until they have produced their own daughter workers. They use energy from their fat stores and redundant flight muscles to lay their first batch of eggs, which they fertilise using sperm stored from their nuptial flight. It is the same stock of sperm acquired from long dead males that allows a queen to continue laying fertilised eggs for her entire life. Queens never mate again. And amazingly, once the queen does die, the workers continue their quest of feeding those that remain, until eventually they all die out.

These huge swarms can seem a bit intimidating, but the ants have only one thing on their minds! Ants that fly don’t represent any greater danger to you than your typical ant that crawls. And flying ants don’t bite unless their genus bites also, for example, fire ants with wings will bite the same as fire ants without wings.

Shortly after the mating ‘deed’ is done, the males all die, and the females start looking for places to start a new colony. Seeing a swarm is nothing to get alarmed about. After all, roughly half will die and not all queens will be successful as everything has to fall into place for her - no predators, the location, and even a bit of luck.

If a swarm happens to invade your home, it would be wise to get the professionals in, especially if they are headed into any wall spaces they find.

Flying ants are sometimes mistaken for wood-chomping termites – that’s another pest altogether! – and before you panic, you can tell the difference by their appearance. Termites have straight, wide bodies, and ants have narrow, pinched bodies. Once you're close enough to compare the bodies of termites to ants, you'll likely see that the abdomen on a termite has no defined waist with a rectangular shape, whereas ants have well-defined pinched bodies.