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On hot summer nights we get flocks of ants that have grown wings (from what I know to migrate nests).

It appears the wings are not permanent, but are grown for a temporary purpose.

From what I know these events are triggered by climatic conditions (warm evenings).

In other species, wings seem like a really big deal and are grown from birth - wheras ants seem to just grow them 'on the spur of the moment'.

My question is How do ants spontaneously grow wings? Are they a spare layer of skin that is normally discarded and only comes into action when necessary?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

See the Wikipedia entry for nuptual flight.

The ants that you see most often are (wingless) female workers. The winged ants that you see are male drones whose only role is to fly with young queens for mating. The drones follow a different developmental pathway, emerge from the pupa as winged ants, and then wait in the nest until conditions are right for the big event.

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