termite swarmers

Contributed by: Doug Webb

Updated on: October 20, 2022

What are termite swarmers?

Termite swarmers, also known as alates, are winged adult reproductive members of a termite colony. During certain cycles of the year, termite colonies produce “swarmers" that leave their current colony to find mates to form new colonies.

Swarmers typically only emerge at certain times of year. However, their presence inside your home can be a surefire sign that termites have taken up residence within your walls and may be expanding their reach. Learn more about the warning signs of termites, what swarmers look like, their mating habits and what to do if you suspect termites in your home.

What do termite swarmers look like?

Swarmers can be found among all species of termites, including those most common in the United States, such as drywood termites, subterranean termites, and dampwood termites.

termite swarmers

Although swarmer termites look similar to winged ants, there are a few key differences. Termite swarmers have four wings (a front and back pair) that are equal in size, straight antennae and a broad waist. By contrast, winged ant swarmers have a much narrower waist than termite swarmers. Additionally, flying ants have a larger set of forewings and smaller set of rear wings and bent antennae.

Why do termites swarm?

The purpose of termite swarming is to begin new colonies. As a colony matures, it begins to produce alate nymphs that will develop into swarmers with wings. Swarmers fly from the colony during the spring or summer when conditions are just right. After their wings drop off, a pair will find a suitable location to mate and start a new colony.

The female member in each of these new partnerships becomes the queen of her new colony. She lays her eggs, which eventually hatch and become workers in the colony. Some of the young termites will develop into soldiers and will be tasked with defending the queen and the other members of the colony.

Over her lifetime, a termite queen could lay a million eggs. Other reproductive termites (secondary reproductives) in a colony can also lay eggs to help the colony grow, though the primary queen is mainly responsible as long as she lives. It is not until a queen dies that one of the secondary reproductives may take her place.

Why is it called a swarm?

This mating flight is called a ‟swarm" because of the sheer number of flying termites emerging from the colony. Most species produce large numbers of flying termites to ensure enough will survive to continue the species. Swarming termites do not fly very well and many fall prey to common predators such as birds and other insects. Some are carried off by wind currents, smashing into cars and trees. In fact, only about 10 percent of the actual number of swarming termites survive this mating ritual.

Termite swarming season

During certain times of the year, termite swarmers come out in full force. These swarmers leave their underground nests to fly away and locate mates. When is termite season? When they swarm depends on the species of termite, the geographic location and is fairly weather dependent. Eastern subterranean termites usually swarm in the spring on a warm day following a rain event, first in the more southern states and then further north as temperatures rise.

Another factor that triggers swarming - the maturity of a colony. There is no specific age at which a termite colony swarms, but subterranean termite colonies typically do not produce a swarm until they are at least three years old.

Before and during swarm season (February through May)

February through May is generally considered termite swarm season, a period of time during which termites leave their established, mature colonies in search of new areas to colonize. These months are typically characterized by warm, moist weather, which is favorable to termite swarmers.

  • The colony is growing and maturing. The castes are performing their roles while the weather becomes warmer.
  • Swarmers emerge to start new colonies. Most die within a few hours, but there are many more termites to replace them.
  • Worker termites are still eating wood and damaging homes while the swarmers are out searching for new digs.
  • Queens pair with kings then search for a place with the right amount of food, moisture and the proper temperature.
  • A colony is established. The queen starts laying eggs and caring for her brood, and the colony starts to slowly grow.

A few months after swarm season

  • The queen's first brood has matured, and the offspring are taking care of themselves.
  • The first generation of termites starts to care for the subsequent generations.
  • After several months, there are still "only" a few hundred termites in the colony, but the numbers are rising.

One to two years after swarm season

  • The queen is more proficient at laying eggs, depositing up to 10,000 eggs per year, and the colony's population takes off.
  • Worker termites have established themselves and are taking care of providing for the eggs and by consuming wood to feed the rest of the colony.
  • The colony is out of sight and out of mind, with the nest location hidden several feet underground and feeding activity mostly occurring in hidden areas.

Three to five years after swarm season

  • The colony is now fully mature and has grown to more than 1,000,000 termites in many cases.
  • The production of swarmers begins.
  • The cycle begins again.

The queen can live up to 30-plus years and the colony can survive much longer as other queens take over when previous queens die. That's why it's imperative to stop termites from ever establishing themselves in your home. But, it all begins with swarm season. Learn the signs of a termite infestation and what you can do to nip the problem in the bud.

What if termites swarm inside my house?

It's not uncommon for termites to swarm inside of a structure. Alternatively, you might only see a few alates that found their way inside. So, why do termites swarm inside your home in the first place? If termites swarm from within your home, it's a good indication your house may have an infestation. Termites swarming inside your home tend to gather around light fixtures and windowsills because they are looking for a way out of the house to form another colony. Their instinct is to fly toward lighted areas.

Does killing the swarmers solve my termite problem?

Unfortunately, no. Swarming termites are not the colony members that consume the cellulose found in wood, causing damage to your property. In actuality, the culprit that wreaks havoc on the wood in your home is the worker termite. Within the termite colony hierarchy, swarmers depend on the workers for food, which is done by regurgitating digested wood to the swarmers and other colony members. However, the offspring of these swarmers may one day become the worker termites of this new colony and continue a cycle of destruction within the walls of your home if left unchecked.

If you spot signs of termite swarms in or around your house, call a termite control professional to inspect your property to confirm if termites are present. When you schedule a free termite inspection with Terminix termite control specialists, our team will pay a visit to your home, evaluate the situation and recommend a customized treatment or protection solution to best target any termites in or around your home and keep these destructive pests at bay.

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