Flying ants: Swarms appear on weather map as 'rain'

Flying ant Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image caption Weather radars are confusing flying ants with raindrops

Huge swarms of flying ants in the south of England have appeared on a weather forecast map looking like rain.

Large numbers of what the Met Office described as "insect clutter" were recorded on radar systems between 8:00 and 11:00 BST.

Clouds of the insects were shown moving from south Hampshire to west Sussex on the interactive weather map.

BBC weather presenter Simon King tweeted an image of what he described as the "incredible" phenomenon earlier.

Mr King said: "We knew it was dry in the south of England, and yet the radar was showing this very light precipitation across the south.

"You can tell it's not rainfall because it has that eerie look to it. It doesn't quite match what rainfall looks like.

"These ants are a particular size and they are probably hovering at a certain height in the atmosphere towards the base of a cloud, and the sheer number of them would suggest there's enough for the radar systems to pick up."

Bournemouth, Brighton and Winchester are some of the areas where residents could end up facing an insect invasion.

Image caption Flying ant season is down to potential new female queens and male ants embarking on a mating flight

Researchers have suggested that there isn't necessarily such a thing as a Flying Ant Day.

But a study of the insects found they fly somewhere in the UK on 96% of days between the start of June and the start of September.

That movement is caused by potential new female queens and male ants embarking on a mating flight.

Mr King said it was the biggest swarm of insects he had seen in the UK, and was a more common sight in parts of the United States.

He added: "For it to actually to appear on the radar imagery, that's something certainly incredible, and I just feel sorry for all the people who have to experience those flying ants."

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Mr King's tweet got some people ducking for cover.

Geoffers wrote: "Nooooooooooo! I HATE flying ant day, it's disgusting!"

It made Dreadders "feel rather queasy" while David Green "got bitten by one putting up the parasol in the garden this morning".

But Martyn Jones said: "We won't be overrun, other animals will gorge on them so please don't worry about ants."

Insect expert Prof Adam Hart said people should be welcoming one of the "great spectacles of nature".

He said: "Ants are incredibly important in the ecosystem.

"As predators they keep on top of other insects and as prey (especially flying ants) they feed many birds and mammals.

"Their nest digging helps to aerate and structure soil as well as acting to cycle nutrients.

"Thousands of people have helped to make sure the emergence of flying ants, forecasting the weather and evading hungry gulls, can be celebrated as a highly visible sign of these vital ecosystem engineers."

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