Flying Ants Up-Close & in Slow Motion

Flying Ants Up-Close & in Slow Motion


I’ve been filming ants flying off of this platform for the last week or so mostly because it looks awesome. But it turns out that no one’s actually filmed ants in slow motion flying like this before. There’s actually been one other study of ant flight and in it they did make slow motion videos. But, they are of tethered fire ants. So, they glued fire ants to a tether and analyzed their wing beats. They found that those ants flap their wings up to 83 times a second. And it was surprising to me that there was only one study of ant flight behavior because it’s relatively easy to film it. If you take a male ant out of its colony and set it on a little platform like this, it will immediately fly off. So, this video isn’t gonna have very many scientific results. This video is all about the first step in science, observation. I’m gonna visualize in flight in a way no one has before, but watch till the end because that’s where I’m putting all the weird videos I captured. All the ant bloopers. The ants I’m filming are male trap-jaw ants. With an orange body and tiny heads, males look nothing like the workers. In nests like this they hang on the ceilings of the chambers and avoid interacting with other colony members. They’re only around during mating season to fly out of the nest and mate with new queens. The first thing I noticed was this right when they take off they sort of extend their legs to front legs in a Superman pose right during liftoff and into flight. This pose doesn’t seem to be just a trap-jaw ant thing either. Other ants I’ve filmed, like these aphaenogaster ants, they stretch out their legs during liftoff and in flight too. The next cool part has to do with the wings themselves. They have a fore and hind wing that can move independently, but during flight they flap in unison. However, during some of the takeoff sequences the wings are actually separated and moving out of sync. At a certain point the fore wing slams into the hind wing the two become locked together. The mechanism here is surprisingly simple. On the top edge of the hind wing there are seven hooks that grab the fore wing and actually link the two. I had to look this up but there’s actually an anatomical term for these hooks on insect wings. They’re called hamuli. The way the ants oriented their bodies during takeoff was also pretty interesting. Some takeoffs were pretty smooth with just wing flapping and forward flight. But some of the flights started with a head tilt and a sideways roll. The most extreme takeoff I filmed was an Aphaenogaster male who lifted off into a completely inverted flight. These odd takeoff seems similar to what fruit fly researchers have described as “escape takeoffs” which are faster but less stabilized than usual. Okay, now for the weird videos. In this first one the ant sort of stands up like he’s gonna fly, raises his front legs, but then all of a sudden seems to forget to flap his wings and just kind of belly flops right on the platform. This last one might qualify as one of the greatest ant videos films of all time. Flight starts out good, stands up, flaps its wings, liftoff is great. Then all of a sudden just sort of gives up on life. And he’s gone. We got to reverse that watch it again. It’s pretty great. Here we go liftoff and then nevermind. So that’s what ant flight looks like up close and in slow motion. Now there’s an estimated 20,000 species of ants and I just showed you video of two. So there’s tons left out there to observe and there’s probably even more interesting things to film than what I just showed you. So if you study insect biomechanics and want to study insect flight or ant flight send me a note I can send you these raw files. Otherwise if you’re interested in other videos like this and seeing other cool stories about what’s happening in this lab subscribe to this channel and check out the other videos that we put out!

32 thoughts on “Flying Ants Up-Close & in Slow Motion”

  1. So fun to watch these scape take-offs! It would be interesting to see how different a calm take-off would be. What camera did you use, btw?

  2. There are some poeple with a whole lot of different Ant race Colonies in their home. Like the Youtuber "Ant Canada" https://www.youtube.com/user/AntsCanada
    It's possable you could get some test subjects, for your Video recordings, from people like him. 🙂

  3. It is my dream to film and study ants. I would love to ask you to please check out my channel and tell me how you got to where you are today. I know you are busy but it would mean a lot (: btw love your footage

  4. Awesome, man! I'm an Entomologist and a lot of researchers at my university are researching ants. But mostly methods to control fire ants and tawny crazy ants. This is super cool! And you also mentioned the hamuli, which are characteristic of all of Hymenoptera. I researched Bullet Ant stridulation in Costa Rica, and now I'm wondering what it looks like when one of those bad boys fly off!

  5. Great video! The topic was pretty interesting and entertaining and the video itself is really well done. I really like the format.

  6. Thank you Adrian!!! Love your videos and your commitment with making your studies available and entertaining for everyone

  7. The entire reason I came here is that I live in Columbus Ohio and we have a flying ant invasion in our kitchen these little black flying things and as I was watching them "fly" just now I noticed…. they SUCK at flying! They don't get much air, they fly absolutely sporadically, and half the time they end up upside down… so why do they fly, how the bloody hell do they fly, and how do they survive like this as it seems they are not looking for food like normal ants following a scent trail ect. They just swarm and carry no food I can tell of back anywhere it's bizarre to say the least… I wonder are they just trying to seek a mate or look for a new home or something along those lines?

  8. I don't think ants are good at flying. Great timing, just saw a few ants with wings. Also, this is quality work, thanks.

  9. I did not know ants flew until I saw queen and males with wings … these males look like GNATS ! THANKS ! 🤔🐜

  10. I like watching them fly around my porch light at night, they’re not very good flyers, in fact whenever they did attempt to take they always bump into walls and clumsily fly into my face.

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