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Hordes of Flying Carpenter Ants Along Oregon Coast

Published 06/26/22 at 7:25 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Hordes of Flying Carpenter Ants Along Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – Well, here's something you don't see every day: hordes of flying ants on the beaches of the Oregon coast. (Photo courtesy Tracy Thomas)

“FLYING ants” you say? Wait, what? Yes, we'll have to back up in a moment.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection received an eyebrow-raising report from Newport part-timer Tracy Thomas on Saturday.

“A large number of them suddenly appeared today at Nye Beach in Newport,” Thomas said. “Right at the tideline. A lot of them are dead, but there are plenty that are alive.”

First, yes, Virginia: there are flying ants. In this case, you can see it's a flying carpenter ant and not a termite. The antennae is the first ID marker on that. This will surprise many, but plenty of others who've had to deal with ant infestations will know firsthand. A flying carpenter ant in your home in winter isn't a good sign. Outdoors, it's no big deal.

There are different types of carpenter ants, and the two largest are the winged carpenter ants, which are the breeders, coming in both male and female, according to scientists like those at OSU. Largest of the two winged ants is the female, and together with the male they live in nests and create more.

Appearance of flying carpenter ants is a rather regular thing, and it takes a run of hot weather to bring them, usually from June to August. Flying ants are known as alates, and when they're out and about like this it means they're trying to get it on.

“It happens all the time,” said Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium. “It happens when there's an east wind and it's really warm.”

In fact, the aquarium's Tiffany Boothe confirmed they were seeing some in Seaside as well.

Back in Newport, Thomas was really surprised by the abrupt appearance and the numbers.


Newport

“ We were here in Newport for the last week, so noticed the sudden appearance of the flying things,” she said. “There were hundreds of them, maybe more. A lot were dead, and birds were having a nice little feast at the tideline. There were plenty still alive though. I mostly saw them crawling around vs flying. I have seen a few outdoors around our place, which is about 4 blocks off the beach. Eeew…”

So what makes flying carpenter ants hit the beaches of the Oregon coast?

According to scientists in the UK and even in Oregon (quoted some 40 years ago), the east winds knock them off course and onto the beaches. It's like those velella velella that wash up onshore in huge numbers, or most any kind of jellyfish: they're not strong swimmers so their fate is determined by ocean currents.

Still, around the Oregon coast and much of Washington too it usually just happens in fall when the warmth and east winds dominate.

Like that one year with Seaside's car show held in September.

“I remember a few years ago during the car show, they were everywhere,” said Chandler. “They were covering the cars all over downtown.”

It's not just flying carpenter ants getting seen. Boothe said ladybugs are out and about as well. There has been some chatter about these on the southern Oregon coast lately too.

“Lots of ladybugs along the high tideline and in the dune grass,” Boothe said. “We collected both a carpenter ant and a lady bug for the Beach Discovery Program so we could talk to people about the beach bugs that you may not expect to find on the beach.”

A few news stories around the world in recent years have talked about enormous swarms of carpenter ants flying around, with one in Nantucket, Mass., last year that included a man complaining of something like 30 of them covering him a lot during one walk about.

In 1985, there was a notorious incident of swarms of them on the Oregon coast at Manzanita, where wildlife officials said this was due to east winds knocking them towards the beach. In that event, joggers complained they were slipping on them on the beach.

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