So what exactly are those flying insects that swarmed the Philadelphia area Monday and where did they come from? Members of the Academy of Natural Sciences have the answers.
Entomology Curator Dr. Jon Gelhaus and Curatorial Assistant Isa Betancourt revealed in a blog post Tuesday that the insects are Lasius neoniger, a species of ant common to the area. And they're not here to reenact a campy horror movie. Instead they're taking part in a mating ritual.
"The swarming of the winged reproductive forms occurs in the fall, and this ant has been called the “Labor Day Ant” by some because it swarms noticeably around Labor Day," they wrote.
Once the mated females land, they shed their wings and find a place to spend the winter until next spring when they start a new colony. The male ants will die in a few days after mating with a new queen.
Gelhaus and Betancourt said the recent rains and cooler temperatures have created conditions in our region that are perfect for mating, which occurs near sundown.
The winged ants caused a stir on social media Monday as a swarm covered various Philadelphia neighborhoods, including South Philadelphia and Fishtown, as well as parts of Bucks County and South Jersey.
“It’s pretty nasty,” one woman told NBC10. “The swarms that went from Frankford and Thompson to near my house at Memphis and Montgomery Ave. We were covered in them from head to toe. Yuck.”
Garrett O’Dwyer said the ants covered his neighborhood in Bella Vista.
“My block has been taken over by flying ants,” he tweeted. “Apparently this is what they do to mate: grow wings and throw a party.”
NBC10 viewers also reported seeing the winged ants in parts of Bucks and Chester County, Pennsylvania as well as Cherry Hill and Salem County, New Jersey. On Tuesday the ants were spotted on cars in the NBC10 parking lot in Bala Cynwyd. Shannon Caranci of Levittown also told NBC10 a swarm of flying ants were covering cars and customers at the Giant shopping center in Fairless Hills Tuesday around 6 p.m.
"Literally you can cut them with your hand," she said.
So how long will the winged ants stick around?
"The swarms usually disappear after a day or two, but it is possible for similar swarms to happen with different species in the coming weeks," Gelhaus and Betancourt wrote.
Gelhaus and Betancourt also said Hurricane Irma had nothing to do with the swarms despite speculation from some on social media.
“These are not here because of the hurricane – this is a normal annual occurrence although perhaps in larger numbers this year due to the milder winter and cooler late summer," they said.
Both Philadelphia Police and the Health Department had fun on social media addressing the concerns of residents freaked out by the bug invasion. And the people who run both social media accounts are also fans of "The Simpsons" apparently.
Swarms of flying ants were also spotted in other cities and states in recent weeks, including Connecticut.