Swarms of flying ants in West Michigan explained

Posted at 4:50 PM, Sep 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-12 16:51:02-04

ALLENDALE, Mich. -- You may have seen them in your own backyard: swarms of flying ants have been spotted all over West Michigan and are causing quite the stir on social media.

Once a year, typically around Labor Day, these yard ants come out in massive numbers to reproduce.  Several FOX 17 viewers took to Facebook on Monday and shared videos and photos of the pests taking over their yards or homes, so we reached out to an expert at Grand Valley State University for some answers.

"Love is in the air, for the ants," said James P. Dunn, a professor of biology at GVSU.

Dunn says the swarms are average yard ants, and it's now peak season for nearly 50 species of Michigan ants to emerge from the ground and reproduce.

"In this case they are native to Michigan and they live in Michigan," Dunn said. "Lived here longer than we have and they'll continue to live in Michigan."

Dunn says the males grow wings specifically to find a mate. The males emerge, reproduce with females and then die.  The females go back underground to lay a nest and restart the process.

"This is natural," Dunn said. "Man moves into where they used to live, and then we see that and think it's a problem, but it's not really a pest."

However, huge numbers of ants have been recorded all over the state and even as far as Pennsylvania.   But how long are they here to stay?

"Just a couple days, really... that's it," Dunn said. "They might be out for a week or maybe two at the very most, but it's different groups coming out."

Exterminators in West Michigan say the ants can enter homes through a cracked foundation, seeking moist areas in the homes like cold pipes or wet wood.  However, yard ants are not known for causing damage in the home.

"There's people just afraid of insects, and there's no reason to be afraid of these insects," Dunn said. "Not gonna bite, not gonna eat your house... It's natural, slight nuisance.  Enjoy the show.  It's nature... nature's working."