Why Do Termites Fly?

Flying termite swarmers may be a horrifying sight for a lot of people but they are a basic and normal part of the termite lifecycle. Termites with wings are simply the breeding troops of the termite world that are sent out of their former colonies to mate and set up new colonies elsewhere. They are physically harmless to humans as they almost never bite but they can spell disaster for your home or property if they decide to set up shop there.

What exactly are flying termites and what do they look like?

As with most ant species, termites reproduce by sending young flying female queens and flying males to mate. These termite queens and kings mate – also called Termite Alates – and end up creating new colonies. There are also reports and research done on the asexual reproduction of some female termites via self-cloning.

Nevertheless, both the female and male winged reproductive termites can look rather similar during the termite swarming season which can make it hard for you to determine whether the termites flying into your home are males or females. Statistically, most of them will be males but the risk of a female will also always be significant.

These termite Alates can resemble flying carpenter ants at a first glance but do differ from them quite a bit largely because termites are actually a part of the cockroach order Blattodea and are not closely related to ants. There are many great scientific sources that explain the termite hierarchy in detail, if you’re interested, such as this article from the University of Freiburg.

Unlike flying carpenter ants, swarming termites have uniform bodies that aren’t segmented into three parts. Additionally, where flying carpenter ants’ two sets of wings are of different lengths – the front wings being longer than the hind ones – termite swarmers’ wings are the same length. Additionally, swarmer termites have straight antennae while ants’ antennae are bent at the middle.

Termites are arguably a far greater danger to your home and property than carpenter ants so differentiating between the two is important. Nevertheless, if either species starts flying through your windows, we’d suggest you take immediate action.

Do all termites have wings?

No, termites are crawling insects with no wings. Termite Alates are the only exceptions to this rule. In fact, non-flying termites are quite slow crawlers too but that doesn’t stop their flying brethren to be rather expert flyers.

termite swarmers

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Why do termites swarm?

Termites swarm during their mating season and they do this both to find and establish new colonies, as well as to help diversify their gene pool. If termites didn’t swarm to reproduce then they would’ve been forced to reproduce only with their nearby colonies which would have seriously hampered their development as a species. Thanks to being able to fly away from their original colonies, however, termites are able to mate with more distant colonies and keep progressing as a species.

When do termites swarm?

Termites make sure to swarm only when the conditions for it are ideal in order to maximize their chances for success. For different termites subgroups this means different times of the year, however. Subterranean termites, for example, swarm in the spring and during the day. Drywood termites, on the other hand, swarm in late summer or early fall, while dampwood termites swarm in the middle of summer.
These differences are due to the fact that they need different conditions to thrive. Nevertheless, there are similarities between the swarm timing of different termites. Almost always, termites swarm after rain and when winds are below 6 mph. All termite species prefer damp soil, including drywood termites, as it helps with the nest-building process.

Why do termites swarm in homes?

There are two main reasons why you might be seeing termites swarming in your home:

  • Most probably – and most worryingly – because you already have a termite infestation in your home. Termites typically try to swarm outdoors even when they are nesting indoors, but they don’t always manage to do so. If their exit holes are inside your home, the termite swarmers will also exit their nest inside your home. Such a swarming can last anywhere between a couple of minutes and several hours, depending on how easy it is for the termites to find their way out of the house. Either way, in the best case scenario you’ll be there to witness the event as this is one sign for an existing infestation that you do not want to miss. Also, keep in mind that indoor swarmings can often be a little off-season compared to the standard outdoor termite swarming. That’s because the higher humidity and higher temperature of a typical residential home can fool the termites that it’s time to swarm earlier than it actually is.
  • The second and rarer cause for seeing swarming termites indoors is that they’ve gotten in from outside, looking for a place to mate and nest. When this happens their numbers will be smaller than in the previous scenario because it’s highly unlikely for that many termites to enter at the same time. It’s also less of a disaster as it means that your property is not infested yet. However, this scenario also requires immediate action as even one successful pair in your home is enough to lead to a full-blown infestation.

Conclusion

Flying termite swarmers are not terrifying in and of themselves, but they are a surefire sign of an incoming disaster – a new termite colony. Seeing termite swarmers in your house or near your property is very much a cause for alarm and serious preventive measures should be taken to ensure that the problem doesn’t escalate.

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