Finding Winged Termites
is a Red Flag
Timothy J. Gibb, Insect Diagnostician, Dept
of Entomology, Purdue University
Finding winged termites in a home or other building
is a near certain sign that the structure is infested. Normally
termites stay hidden, either underground, inside wood or in mud
tubes in order to maintain the humidity that they need to survive.
It is only when the winged reproductive forms are produced that
they become plainly visible, and this only happens sporadically.
Winged termites are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in length
and vary from black to yellow-brown in body color. They have 4
equal sized smoke-gray to brown wings that extend past the length
of their body. Winged termites are also known as "swarmers" because they come
out in large numbers all at one time – usually during the
springtime, and after rain events.
Many people confuse winged termites with winged
ants. It is very important to know the difference between swarmer
ants and termites. Winged termites have straight, bead-like antennae,
a thick waist, and a pair of long, equal-length wings. Winged ants
have distinctively elbowed antennae, constricted waists, forewings
that are larger than the rear wings (unequal size).
Swarmer termites also keep their winged attached
only for a short period of time. After a short period of time the
wings break at their base and are discarded, sometimes in large
piles. The presence of winged termites, or their shed wings, inside
a home should be a warning of a termite infestation. Ants can be
a nuisance, but termites can be down right destructive. They must
be controlled in order to save the home.
It is beneficial to understand what swarmer termites
are and how they occur. A termite colony begins with a male (king)
and a female (queen) termite that mate for life. This can extend
to more than 20 years. The queen can produce up to 100 million
eggs during her lifetime. Most of these eggs become the workers
and soldiers that feed, forage and take care of the colony needs
but as the colony matures, some eggs may become reproductives,
or winged termites.
As the reproductive termite nymph matures, its body
lengthens and sexual organs develop. The body turns black, eyes
become functional, and wings extend to twice its body length.
have only one assignment in a colony and that is to leave, find
a mate and reproduce.
After emerging from a wood pile or a stump in the woods, reproductive
termites fly off to find and mate with reproductives from other
colonies. Only a very small percentage of swarming termites actually
survive to initiate new colonies. Many are eaten by other insects,
amphibians or birds. Swarms emerging inside a structure cannot
escape therefore usually never survive. However, do not ignore
them. Their presence is a one time per year, red flag that should
warn a homeowner that the premises are infested and that a professional
pest manager should be called in.