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Got bugs, Philly? It’s nothing to fear, just mating season, experts say

Recent sightings of swarms of insects are just part of nature.
Flying ants like this one have been spotted all over Philly. (Wikimedia Commons)

Swarms of bugs on the loose! It sounds like a horror movie, but it’s all too true in Philly lately, as sightings of swarms of flying ants have been reported widely in recent days. 

But the uptick in visible insects is nothing to be afraid of, said entomologist Dr. John Cambridge, CEO of the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion. It’s just mating season for bugs.

“This isn’t a crisis. This is, ‘Wow, nature is beautiful, wonderful and majestic,’” Dr. Cambridge said Tuesday. “It’s not so different from every other year. It’s just a little bit bigger population than usual.” 

Dr. Cambridge, whose specialty is population monitoring of invasive species, identified winged (or alate) ants, which are primed for breeding, as the primary insect population that has spiked in the Philadelphia area this week. The Insectarium received numerous reports of swarms of bugs, although he couldn’t confirm the species that were observed by civilians. 

But there’s no problem, he said. Insect populations simply seem to be a little bit high this year. 

“We notice these changes with insects because they’re going through many more generations quickly in front of us,” he said. “No population stays the same – that is unnatural and unlikely.”

Positive and negative pressures on insect populations include availability of resources, nesting habitats, the abundance of food and the presence of predators.

It’s difficult to say exactly which factors led to the current spike, he said, but social media flared up Tuesday with reports of bugs around Philly. 

“We’re just noticing it now. Those populations were there last week and the week before, but they were underground,” Cambridge explained. “These are the individals ants and colonies that decided to swarm into the air.” 

Similar swarms have been spotted around the East Coast, including in Connecticut. Cambridge said the swarms typically last just a few days, but in the coming winter months, other bugs can be expected to show up more often in locals’ homes, trying to keep warm.