Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Almanac For Moderns: The Nuptial Flight

August Eighth

Suddenly, from all over the countryside, the winged ants have emerged simultaneously; the date appointed for the nuptial flight is at hand, of one of the fifty species known hereabouts, and everywhere the ants obey it. The creatures which literally fell under my observation were small, mostly males--unsuccessful suitors, perhaps, for nature launches scores of drones into the air in search of one princess. But even the one triumphant suitor must descend to the realities of earth, after the raptures of mating a mile above it, and I doubt if the nest or Nature has any further use for any of the drones, once they have fulfilled their destiny.

I have repeatedly seen the take-off of the winged ants. The whole colony appears in a state of great turmoil, dragging out its winged or sexual members ingeniously but hastily, like ground mechanics getting airplanes out of a hangar in a time of war. The big queen, as yet only a princess, is propelled along the ground, as if she were a plane taxi-ing across the field. At first she seems enormous to my eyes, compared to the workers, enormous and inert and positively afraid. The little males are also trundled forth, and stand about, waiting patiently. Then, at some moment that pleases her, the princess flies swiftly up into the air. In a moment, seen against all the emptiness of blue heaven, she dwindles to a tiny speck, endowed with a joyful frenzy. The males start off in pursuit. The rest is hidden from us by the blinding sunlight. 

More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.