'Nuptial Flight' by Rachel New

You probably know it as flying ant day. That one moment in summer, when, waiting to cross the road or walking to the shop for a forgotten pint of milk, you notice the ants have taken to the skies. If you’ve seen this happen you’ll also realise it only happens on a hot, clear day, often in the afternoon, when we humans have become weary in our work clothes and long for a cool breeze.
        But have you ever wondered why it happens? What possesses these ground dwelling creatures to sprout wings and soar? It is in fact a nuptial flight, the beginning of the ant’s lifecycle. When conditions are just right, the air dry with no threat of rain to damage their delicate wings, princess ants, females destined to become queens, take flight. Once aloft she releases pheromones to lure smaller, subservient drones to follow her. Whilst airborne the princess will try to outfly the males so that natural selection ensures only the strongest can catch her. If and when he does he will mate with her, mid-air, as the gentle summer thermals buffet the lovers against blue skies. Once he (and many more before and after him, as she will mate with multiple drones on this maiden voyage and store their seed for later use) has deposited his sperm in her pocket he will die, exhausted and alone.
        While his life is short and loveless the sperm laden Princess, no longer virginal and now a queen, will eventually land and prepare for a worthwhile existence, rearing countless young ants. She can live for up to 15 years, never needing to trouble herself again with the messy business of inflight copulation, having collected all she needs from the males that heady summer afternoon, so many years before.
        Such meticulous and devious aforethought from the queen, but why? There is cunning in her plan that guarantees the ant will retain its place on earth. She lures her guileless mates to far flung corners and certain death in the quest for a healthy gene pool. Her sole goal is to limit the chances of inbreeding and ensure a long lineage of strong subjects, a spectacular example of majesty and leadership. The beautiful be-winged ant princess is as heroic as anything Disney could dream up.
        Next time you make your way home on a stifling hot day, thinking only of cold drink, and you see a cloud of clumsy ants chasing a princess, remember what a perfect slice of biology you are witnessing.




FlashFlood is brought to you by National Flash-Fiction Day UK, happening this year on 27th June 2015.
In the build up to the day we have now launched our Micro-Fiction Competition (stories up to 100 words) and also our annual Anthology (stories up to 500 words).  So if you have enjoyed FlashFlood, why not send us your stories?
More information about these and the Day itself available at nationalflashfictionday.co.uk.

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