Every summer, there is a certain day when the climatic conditions, celestial movements, and god knows what else, contrive to bring us an eleventh Biblical Plague: a clumsy, filmy-winged, mutant downpour of flying ants. For me, this is perennially one of the most grisly, gloomy and anxious days of the year.
Many things make me unhappy, but to see such an awkward cloud of insects descend on gardens and patios, landing not helter-skelter but with a gentle thud, is really quite frightening. All at once, the air feels thick, tropical and apocalyptic, like a humid and portentous scene from a John ‘Mad’ Martin painting. Often, Flying Ant Day is preceded by a night of heavy, summer rain. On the day itself, cloud cover is typically grey and billowing, sending a bitter reminder of the winter months through an otherwise idyllic sky.
Around evening, when the harsh heat of the day has abated, and families seek holiday solace in varnished garden furniture, mother nature takes one furtive glance and unleashes its payload of these ungainly creatures, seemingly forged in the underbelly of the earth from the entrails and ectoplasm of ants, flies and wasps. Armies of them crawl out from cracks in paving stones. Swarms of them fizz and pop out of thin air. And, instantly, we take shelter inside.
What makes Flying Ant Day particularly unbearable is that it is, at heart, one enormous, spontaneous, mating ritual, where hordes of queen ants take flight for a single day to found new colonies. They take off; they mate; they burrow. To gain sustenance after their epic journey of fornication, they chew and digest their own wings. There is something intangibly miserable about this grim, mechanical process, which occurs without any prior communication. It is reproduction at its most inelegant, and it gets me down.