Termite colonies that reach maturity produce alates, or flying termites, in springtime. Swarms of these winged termites can be scary for homeowners, but they’re usually harmless.
During swarming, alates seek out mates and begin new colonies. They shed their wings and become wingless once they find their new home.
Termites swarm in order to mate and create new colonies. These new colonies are established in moist cellulose-rich wood, such as that found in homes. Once established, these wood-eating pests cause severe structural damage that often requires expensive repairs. As a result, it’s important to recognize these insects when they appear. One of the most common problems homeowners encounter is misidentifying flying termites as ants. This mistake can cost you thousands of dollars in property damage.
While swarming termites do resemble ants in some ways, there are a few characteristics that can help you differentiate the two insects. The most prominent difference is in the shape of the wings. Termite wing shapes are clear and almost transparent with a vein-like appearance. By contrast, ant wings are darker in color and can be a variety of sizes. Additionally, ant wings are typically wider than their body, while a termite’s wings are more proportionate to its body size.
The other major difference between termites and ants is in their bodies. Termite swarmers have a wide waistline, which makes their bodies look more uniform in thickness from head to abdomen. Meanwhile, ants have pinched waists that separate their bodies into 3 distinct segments. Finally, ant antennae are bent in an elbow-like fashion, while termite antennae are straight.
If you see a mass of small, scurrying bugs clustered around wood trim or cracks where pipes meet walls, it’s likely that you have a termite infestation on your hands. Termites are a nuisance pest that can chew through nearly anything made from wood or plant-based materials and can destroy homes in less than 24 hours. They leave behind visible signs of their activity, including holes in finished and unfinished wood that are chewed-looking and rough to the touch.
If you spot swarmers of this destructive insect, take action by contacting your local pest control company immediately. A thorough inspection will confirm whether or not you have a termite problem in your home, and can provide the best treatment options. Once you eradicate these termites, your home will be safe from future infestations and the ensuing costly damages they cause.
Wing Venation Patterns
The winged termites, or alates, that are often seen in homes are the reproductive members of a colony. They are responsible for leaving the colony to find a mate and start new colonies. The alates have wings that are clear and roughly twice as long as their bodies. They also have straight antennas. It is easy to mistake these winged termites for flying ants, but the wing size and shape differences make them easier to differentiate from one another.
Termite wings are all the same length and clear in color, whereas ant wings are two different sizes and have veins that curve and cross each other. In addition, ant antennae are bent or elbowed, while termite antennae are straight and bead-like in appearance. The thoraxes (chests) and abdomens of termites are almost the same size as well, while ant thoraxes are larger than their abdomens.
When at rest, the wings of a termite are held down over the body, with the forewings overlapping and the hindwings hidden. Unlike the eyes of non-winged worker and soldier termites, which are large and well-separated, the eyes of winged termite swarmers are small and well-separated.
Unlike most insect wings, which have one main set of veins that branch out from the base, the forewings and hindwings of termite wings have four separate sets of veins that branch out from the base. This gives them a more complex pattern, compared to most insect wings that have the simple archetype pattern. The fifth wing vein, known as the media anterior, forks into two branches at its midsection, and then into four distinct branches on the outer side of the wing.
It is the combination of these identifying characteristics that makes the wings of a termite swarmer stand out from other insects. It is also the reason why swarmers are easy to spot in and around a home. If you notice mud tubes running up walls and the telltale signs of a swarm of winged termites, it is a good idea to contact your local termite control company as soon as possible to prevent serious damage.
The color of termites’ wings is another way to tell them apart from flying ants. The wings of winged termites are the same color as their bodies, which is quite different from the contrasting colors of ant wings. Ant wings are typically lighter in color and can look transparent or translucent.
The wings of a termite are also longer than the insect’s body, which can be helpful for spotting these insects in the wild or in your home. You can even use a magnifying glass or stereomicroscope to get a closer look at a termite’s wings. The wings of winged termites are usually a light beige or golden color, with veins that run parallel to the wing’s leading edge. Unlike ants, the wings of a termite are not divided into two distinct parts and are much thinner.
Termite wings are also more translucent and have less patterning on their surface than the wings of ants. This may be why some people mistakenly identify termites as moths or flies when they first see them.
Swarms of flying termites are common around homes and commercial buildings. These are a good sign that there is an established termite colony nearby and the colony is expanding. The swarming process is provoked by heavy rain or warm, humid weather and involves male and female termites traveling to find new areas for mating. Once fertilized, the termites shed their wings and establish new colonies. The swarming process can cause damage to the building and its contents, so it’s important to schedule a termite inspection and get an extermination plan as soon as possible.
When examining discarded termite wings, it’s important to note that the wing color is very similar to that of the insect itself. Long-winged discarded termite wings are often the color of the mature adult, while short-winged wings may be that of a nymph or other caste.
The easiest way to tell a nymph termite from an adult termite is by looking at the insect’s waist. Nymphs have pinched waists that are narrower than the rest of their bodies, while adult termites have thick waists that are the same width as the rest of their bodies. Another easy way to distinguish a nymph from an adult is by looking at the antennae. Ants have elbowed antennae, while termites have straight, bead-like antennae.
The wings of termites are elongated with a pointed tip at one end called the apex and a thicker front edge called the costa. These wings are stiffer than those of other flying insects and are designed to support the insect as it flies. The costa also gives the wings a lacy appearance and is covered with tiny veins that run parallel to the length of the wing. The wings of a termite also have a pattern of cross-veins that form cells, another distinctive feature that helps to distinguish them from other insects.
The swarming of winged termites that you see in your home is an important part of their life cycle. This is when the reproductives of a colony fly out and pair up with each other, with males searching for females to fertilize. The swarmers, which are called alates, then leave the colony in search of new locations where they can start their own colonies.
If you spot swarmers of termites around your house, the first thing to do is to confirm that they are indeed termites. You can do this by looking for discarded wings, which are a common sight around windows and doors. Also look for mud tubes, which are small tubes made of soil and wood debris that termites use to enter homes and other buildings. Lastly, you should look for actual signs of termite activity, which are typically small holes in the wood and may be accompanied by a foul odor.
It is possible that you may mistake termites with wings for ants at some point, but it is fairly easy to tell the difference between the two species if you pay close attention. Termite swarmers have body segments that are the same width and four wings of equal size, while ants have narrow waists and elbowed antennae. Their wings are also different sizes, with ant wings being much longer than their hind wings.
Once a swarm of swarmers lands, it will usually be at dusk or dawn as they search for a place to establish a new colony. They are very poor fliers and will generally break their wings soon after swarming, as they do not plan to use them again.