After a termite colony reaches a certain population level, usually more than 10,000 for northern temperate subterranean termites, winged (alate) reproductive “swarmers” are produced and leave the colony in a “swarm”. A swarm is a mixed group of roughly 50% male and 50% female reproductive termites which leave the nest at the same time, in a short period of 5-45 minutes. This is usually triggered by a rain in the spring (warming temperatures and lengthening days), and usually occurs around dusk or dawn. Large colonies may release swarmers in several pulse-like groups over two or more days when conditions are right.
Swarmers fly upward at first and may be attracted to light. After landing, a female breaks off her own wings, raises her abdomen and emits a pheromone which attracts males of her species. If a suitable male finds her, they touch each other, and he breaks off his own wings. The pair then “run in tandem” for a short time before searching out a suitable piece of wood in which to begin a nest. Their first brood soon takes over the colony maintenance and food gathering, and the queen reverts to only producing eggs. The pair are mated for life. The queen can produce roughly 1,000 eggs per day by her fourth year of life. If either the king or queen dies, other members of the colony can change into reproductives and replace the lost member of the pair.
How can you tell if those fluttering things are termites?
Subterranean termites mainly live underground or in protected areas such as galleries in wood. There is always at least one queen, and many more “secondary reproductives” are usually present. Most people never see a queen, but may see swarmers or workers. The total number of individuals in a colony of subterranean termites can total more than a million. Imagine a million insects attacking your house! Workers are small white insects. They are blind and very sensitive to heat, cold and dry air. This sensitivity is why they build shelter tubes or “mud tubes.” In fact, they need to maintain an atmosphere of nearly 100 percent humidity. Sometimes finding shelter tubes, a little smaller diameter than a pencil, is the first sign of a termite infestation. Workers are just that … the workers of the colony. They find new food sources (vegetation or wood containing cellulose). Upon finding a food source, the termites put down a chemical signal or pheromone to lead the other workers to the feeding site. Termites do not “attack” your house or building.
They forage and find food sources, commonly in moist areas. When they discover your house or other buildings, they become a real pest and that is when the professional pest management company comes in. In most areas of the country, depending on the species, healthy subterranean termite colonies will “swarm” or send out winged reproductive termites to start new colonies in the spring. The swarmers are darker in color, some species almost black, and have four wings. For more information on how to tell termites from ants, see the box on the left.
How to tell termites from ants:
- Termites swarm at very limited times of the year
- The body of a termite swarmer is about 3/8” long
- They have four wings of equal size
- Termites have a straight waist as well as straight antennae
- You will notice they are clumsy flyers
- Ants swarm throughout the year depending on species
- The body of an ant will vary in size depending on species
- They have four wings; two larger and two smaller and pinched waists
- Ants have elbowed antennae and are good flyers
To learn more about how we can develop a termite management plan best suited to your situation, contact BPC Pest Control today.