When do termites swarm?


Imagine you wake up on a beautiful warm morning, walk to the kitchen, and discover that there are hundreds of winged insects twitching about the doorway and the floor. These insects do not seem to fly well and most of them are dead or dying. This is not the scene of the latest B-thriller. This is the aftermath of a termite swarm or an ant swarm.  Flying termites have snuck into your home and now you have to deal with them.

The worst thing you can do right now is to sweep the bugs outside and ignore them. It’s time to check out what the swarmers look like and then contact an exterminator. Getting a termite inspection for your home and property now can save a lot of heartaches (and cash) later. Although termite swarms happen only in warm or hot weather, termite colonies can live year-round.

If you want a termite professional to take a look, answer a few questions below

Significance of witnessing termite swarms

Termites spend lives mostly hidden away from humans. They can live underground or inside wooden structures, including your home. By the time you actually see termites falling out of the walls, severe damage has been done to your home.

The only time termites are clearly visible is during the spectacular breeding swarms. Seeing a termite swarmer near your home could be your only clue that termites live near or even worse… in your home.

The termites or ants in these swarms only come out when the weather is warm or hot. If you live in a warm climate year-round, then you need to be on the lookout for these swarms year-round. These insects come out of their colonies in order to breed and then start off new termite colonies.

If you discover a swarm in a part of your home that is well-heated throughout the winter, then it is possible for termite breeders to assume that it’s spring or summer and swarm. Cold quickly kills these breeders but does not kill the rest of the colony.

Video showing winged termite swarmers near the brick foundation of a home in South Carolina.

What if you see a termite swarm in your yard?

Perhaps a breeding termite swarm is seen covering a tree, shrub, fence or outbuilding in your yard. Does this mean that the termite colony is far enough away from your home so that you do not have to worry? No. In fact, it’s time to start worrying. ​Subterranean Termites tunnel underground from incredibly long distances away from their colonies.

Termite swarmers emerging from old stumps in man’s yard in Louisiana.

Termite scouts are blind, but they are able to follow the scent of cellulose and other food like paper, wood, and even gardening mulch in the soil. If a scout finds food, it takes a piece back home to the colony. Scouts lay down a scent trail easy for other workers to follow back to the food source.

Differences between ant swarmers and termite swarmers

Both ants and termites breed in swarms of winged males and females. Both can be about the same size–up to an inch long- and both can have dark-colored bodies. However, there are some major differences between termite breeders (also called alates) and ant alates. Since most of the swarmers will die soon after mating, you should be able to find dead insects to study and eventually distinguish between termite and ant alates.

Inspect the insects’ wings, antenna, and body

Wings: Both ants and termites have two pairs of wings, but both pairs of termite wings will be the same size. Ant wings will be different-sized.

Antennae: Ant antennae will be bent while termite antennae will be straight.Body shape: (This may be difficult to determine if a bug is curled up.) Ants, close relatives to bees and wasps, have a very skinny waist while termites have no waist at all. Their bodies are shaped like torpedoes. If you are still not sure if the swarm is an ant swarm or a termite swarm, save a corpse or two in a plastic baggie or other container and show it to an exterminator.

What if you find a pile of wings but no termites?

Ant and termite alates only keep their wings as long as they need them. They tend to shed them after their mating flights or even bite them off. Wings are of no use to creatures that now are going to spend the rest of their lives underground or embedded in food sources. In this case, you may not see insect bodies but come across small piles of discarded insect wings.

It’s difficult to determine the difference between ant wings and termite wings just with the naked eye – or even if you’re armed with a magnifying glass. These wings are incredibly fragile and fall apart under even the most gentle of handling. The best thing you can do is contact an exterminator and schedule a termite inspection.

What if you find streaks of mud near swarms or discarded wings?

Perhaps you witness a swarm coming out from what looks like stripes or streaks of dirt around your window frames, doorways, porch steps or anywhere else in your home. Those dirty stripes are called mud tubes. They were made by termite workers. Termite bodies, except for breeders and queens, quickly dry out and die when exposed to heat and light. Termites do not have hard shells to keep in moisture.

In order to keep their bodies cool and moist, workers build tunnels made with dirt and termite spittle. Winged breeders crawl through these tunnels and then burst out when it’s time for termite love. Workers will repair these tunnels if they lead to more food. Ants do not make mud tunnels. Their hard exoskeletons are excellent for keeping in moisture.

Typical times that termite swarmers emerge

When do termite swarms happen?

During warm weather or inside rooms kept toasty warm.

Remember, termite swarmers have two pairs of same-sized wings and straight antennae. Seeing a swarm is sometimes the only clue you as a homeowner might have that termites are fixing to feast on your home. Termite swarms are a big neon sign that you need to contact a professional exterminator.

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