Seeing flying insects in your home can be scary, especially if it’s a termite swarm. But before you grab your can of fly spray, make sure it’s a real termite swarm and not something else!
Winged termites, also called alates, are reproductive members that emerge in a swarm to mate and start new colonies. They look like ants, but their wings are equal in length and they have pinched waists that separate their bodies into 3 distinct segments.
Termite colonies are able to continue growing and expanding throughout their lifetimes thanks to a complex process of cell division. Once a queen termite lays an egg, the larval stage known as nymphs will develop for 30 days before maturing into adult forms. As they mature, nymphs are relegated to one of several castes which are determined by the colony’s needs. These include workers, soldiers, and reproductives. It’s the latter that produce swarmers and fly away to establish new termite colonies.
Once nymphs become adults, they’ll elicit pheromone signals that indicate it’s time to grow wings and take flight. During this time, they’ll also darken and harden their exoskeletons to help them handle exposure to sunlight and other outdoor elements. Once the alates are ready to mate, they’ll leave their parent colony as swarmers. Once they’ve mated, the females will be assigned to become a primary reproductive and the males will pair up with other alates to become secondary reproductives. Ultimately, only one of each of these forms will become the queen and king of a new colony.
These are the winged termites you may have seen in your home during a swarm. Unlike other types of insects that can fly for extended periods of time, termite swarmers aren’t good fliers. They can only fly a short distance from their original colony and will eventually shed their wings. Typically, they’ll land on or near their target location and begin building a nest.
As the name suggests, worker termites are responsible for building tunnels and chambers and feeding other members of the colony. While most nymphs are female, some are male and serve as the primary laborers of the colony. The most numerous of all termite castes, workers are characterized by their blindness and distinctly white color.
Unlike other insects, which use their eyes to navigate, termite soldiers are sightless and have dramatically enlarged heads that allow them to effectively defend the colony against intruders. They can also switch from their work-related role into any of the other castes, depending on what’s needed most at the moment.
A termite colony has different castes, with each serving a specific function. There are workers, who chew through wood and digest the cellulose inside, and soldiers, who defend the colony from attackers. The queen also produces winged reproductive termites, called alates, that can leave the colony and pair up to establish new colonies.
When the weather is perfect, the alates swarm out in search of mates and a place to start their own termite colony. This event is known as nuptial flight, and it occurs every year in most ant, termite, and honey bee species. The nuptial flights of ant and termite alates typically occur at night.
Seeing flying termites is one of the first signs that you might have a serious, possibly damaging, termite infestation on your property. However, many people are confused about whether the flying insects they see are ants or termites. Both species can have wings, but termite wings are uniform in size while ant wings are noticeably longer on the front than the back.
The purpose of a termite’s wings is to allow it to fly in search of a mate. Mating during a nuptial flight is an important step in a termite’s life cycle because it ensures genetic diversity within the colony. During the nuptial flight, virgin queens and males of multiple colony locations meet each other to swap genes.
Once a pair of termites finds a mate, they will join forces in tandem behavior to scout for an appropriate place to establish their new colony. The mate will release a sexual attractant pheromone to lure the male, and the male will chase the female until they reach a suitable area. After a brief, nuptial courtship, the mate will pull off its wings and shed them for good.
After shedding its wings, a termite reproductive will retain the stubs of their old wings, which it can use as a tool to help it navigate through the air. Unlike ants, which will shed their wings when they are done with them, a termite will retain its wing stubs for the rest of its life.
Termites are highly social insects that thrive in a colony, but they also reproduce by sending out winged male and female insects to search for mates and start new colonies. These winged termites are known as swarmers or alates, and they can only be seen during certain times of the year.
Swarmers flutter around in the air for a few days, and then they shed their wings once they find a place to land and establish a new colony. They’ll often hang out in moist soil near a wood source. Once a pair of swarmers locates a place to live, they’ll mate and dig out a chamber in the ground where they’ll live for 30 or more years.
If you see a group of swarmers in your home, it’s important to note that they’re just looking for a new home and will not cause any damage to your house if left alone. However, you should still call Hulett to schedule a termite inspection right away — even just seeing these flying pests can indicate that a full-blown infestation is nearby.
Despite their wings, swarmers look very similar to flying ants. They’re both beige in color and roughly the same size. They both have two straight antennas, and their wings are identically shaped. The biggest difference is that ants have wings that are paired together, while termites’ wings are single and separated.
The good news is that if you see a group of swarmers fluttering in the air, it’s a sure sign that there’s a termite colony somewhere nearby. But keep in mind that it takes three to five years for a termite colony to mature enough to produce these winged termites, so by the time they’re swarming inside your home, significant wood damage may have already taken place.
The best way to prevent termite infestations is by regularly inspecting your home and taking the necessary steps to correct moisture issues. But if you’ve already seen signs of a termite problem, contact Hulett immediately to schedule a free termite inspection. And if you happen to spot any discarded termite wings, don’t forget to collect them for your termite exterminator.
Spotting Termites with Wings
Termites can do a lot of damage to your home and cause costly repairs. That’s why it’s important to know the signs of termites so you can take action early on. Seeing discarded wings around your house or other locations can be a telltale sign that you may have an active termite infestation.
When a termite colony reaches a certain size, it will produce winged reproductive adults, or “swarmers.” These swarmers will fly out of the nest to pair off and form new colonies. This process is known as swarming and occurs in the springtime when conditions are ideal.
Swarming termites are unable to fly very far, so they’ll generally stay close to their original homes as they seek out potential mates. This means you’re likely to see them gathering in large groups near light fixtures or windowsills. Termite swarmers are attracted to light and can be easily mistaken for flying ants, which is why it’s important to understand the difference between them.
While both ant and termite wings are translucent in color, a few key differences can help you identify a termite from an ant. For example, a termite’s wings are evenly-sized and have a clear or slightly smoky appearance. In contrast, ants’ wings are a bit longer and have a darker hue with more veins. Additionally, a termite’s antennas are straight and bead-like in shape while ants’ are bent or elbowed.
While it can be tempting to block the holes that swarmers create for escape, this is not advised as they will just dig new tunnels through your house and potentially find other entry points. If you have seen a swarm of discarded wings in your home, it’s best to call a professional as soon as possible so that they can inspect your home for termite activity and begin the process of treating the problem. Contact us today to learn more about our termite control services in the Atlanta area!