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What are Swarming Termites?

By Nychole Price
Updated May 16, 2024
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Termites with wings are referred to as swarmers. Swarming termites have a body divided into two parts, with four wings of equal length. Swarmers are specialized members of a termite colony, whose job it is to propagate the species. They are referred to as swarmers because they move and act as one entity, forming new colonies quickly and efficiently. There are three well-known types of swarming termites: subterranean, Formosan and drywood.

Subterranean termites are the most prevalent termite in North America. This termite feeds on soil, cotton, paper, trees, brush roots and wood. While subterranean termites have an average colony size of 30 to 40 thousand members, it is not uncommon to find colonies as large as 5 million. During the spring months, the swarmers emerge to spread out and recolonize. A standard subterranean termite swarmer is 1/4 (6.35 cm) to 3/8 (9.52 cm) of an inch long and coal black to pale yellow in color.

Formosan termites originated in Formosa, Taiwan and have been transported to the United States, where they thrive on the warm, humid conditions of the South. This species is also known as super termites because they can consume a pound (0.45 kg) of wood every day. When the swarmers of the group relocate, they will make a nest in any available hollow space in your home. A standard colony will contain approximately 70,000 swarming termites, with each one laying 15 to 30 eggs per day. A standard Formosan termite is 1/2 an inch (1.27 cm) long, yellowish brown in color and covered in small hairs.

Drywood termites are so named because they live, and thrive in dry wood. This species of termite can be found in older wood furniture, wood flooring and behind drywall, where they feed on the studs of the house. Drywood termite colonies are often much smaller than other species of termites, but there can be multiple colonies in one house. Drywood swarmers vary in color from dark brown to light yellowish tan, with clear or smoke gray wings. A full grown drywood swarmer is approximately 7/16 of an inch (1.1 cm) long.

As with all species of termites, prevention is the best method of termite control. This is especially true of these three species, due to the amount of swarming termites per colony and the speed with which they multiply. Use treated wood in the construction of new homes and practice baiting in existing structures. Once an infestation occurs, it is very difficult, and expensive to stop.

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Discussion Comments

By snickerish — On Oct 23, 2011

Swarming termites are one reason that I am not too eager to move into a house. I like living in an apartment, that way most maintenance falls on the shoulders and the pocket books of the owners of the property, and not on me. I could not imagine having to move to a different home because of termite infestation, while also trying to sell the old property too.

It seems like termites are pretty sneaky, so I am sure many people would not know they had termites until a lot of damage was already done.

If I were a home owner I would invest in getting a yearly test so that I would know if I had any unwanted critters/insects destroying my house.

It seems like getting these tests done at the beginning of every year would be a good way to ring in the new year, especially since termites supposedly are more prevalent in the first few months of each year.

By jmc88 — On Oct 22, 2011

@kentuckycat - I can't say that I have ever seen a winged termite swarm before in person, but I have seen pictures. I don't think they necessarily fly together in a swarm like bees might, but if they choose your house as a target, you might be able to catch them before it's too late.

The time of year when termites swarm varies depending on where you live and what types of termites are around. You can actually go to the Terminix website, and they have a tool that tells you when the highest swarm dates are for your area. Most of them are in the early part of the year.

Whenever the termites do choose a house, they will usually be crowded around the outside all trying to find a way in. If you notice that, call an exterminator before they can establish themselves. Otherwise, I don't know if there are any traps or anything you can use. Obviously, you don't want to set baits or that might just lure them to your house.

By kentuckycat — On Oct 21, 2011

When do termites swarm normally? I live in an older house, and I am always afraid of having termites invade. If I knew when they might start coming around, I could make sure I was on the lookout for them. Also, is there anything that you could buy that would trap swarming termites so you could tell if they were in the area or not?

When they are flying, what does a swarm of termites look like? I was not even aware that they spread like this until I read this article. Since I have never heard of it, I would assume they don't look like a big cloud of termites flying around that most people would notice.

By TreeMan — On Oct 21, 2011

@titans62 - Good questions. Luckily I remember learning about this from a class I had in high school. I have always been interested in learning about insects, and it is good trivia knowledge to have.

In the case of ants, the males can fly like you mentioned. Whenever it is time for the colony to spread out, the queen will produce a special egg that will hatch into another queen. This queen has wings that let it leave with a bunch of the males and start a new colony.

For termites, there is still a queen (which is much more disgusting than an ant queen if I do say so myself). The queen basically has the same role for termites. For swarming termites, though, the queen will produce a lot of females that are able to fly away with males and they can settle in a new colony. At that point, I think one or two of the females become dominant and start reproducing and the others become workers.

By titans62 — On Oct 21, 2011

@allenjo - That is some useful information to know. If I am correct, the flying ants are males that are meant to mate with the queen. I guess maybe they are responsible for forming new colonies, as well.

Does anyone know if the same is true for swarming termites? Are the flying ones only males or can they be male and female? If it is the case that the flying ones are males, how does the colony spread? You would still have to have a female to produce eggs. It might be different with termites, though. Do they even have a queen, or are there several mating females?

By SkyWhisperer — On Oct 20, 2011

@allenJo - I agree with the article that the baited treatment for winged termites is probably the best solution around for dealing with the infestation.

The only problem I have with the baited termite treatment is the cost. The chemical treatments usually cost less than a $1,000 – a lot less in some cases. The baited systems cost more than that; that’s what has always deterred me from getting the baited system, although I don’t doubt that they are the way to go if you want to be completely free of termites.

By allenJo — On Oct 19, 2011

@Mammmood - One thing you should notice is that sometimes flying ants can look like swarming termites. Many people don’t realize that flying ants even exist, but they do, and they look similar to termites.

There are several differences however. The termites have wings of equal lengths but the ants do not. The antennae of the ants are bent but those of the termites are straight. The termite also has a thicker waist than the ant.

So if you see flying inspects that look like swarmers, take a second look and see if they meet those conditions. It certainly doesn’t hurt to call in the experts but I would rather know in advance if I could.

By Mammmood — On Oct 18, 2011

We had a termite problem in the old house. Unfortunately I made the mistake that many homeowners make. We got an initial termite treatment, but let it lapse after a few years. I don’t know why we did this; our house is our biggest investment, so I should have known better.

Well, the time came to sell the house. I dreaded the inspection, because I wondered if they would find any termite damage. Sure enough they did; it was in the garage area.

Fortunately none of it reached the other parts of the house, but there was still damage. The buyer wanted us to repair the damage in the garage, but of course that would have put us above our fixed commitment of repair costs in the real estate contract.

After some haggling, they just asked that we pay for a new treatment, which we did.

By bagley79 — On Oct 18, 2011

It is amazing how something so tiny and small can cause so much damage.

We have some friends who used to live in a restored barn. This restoration had been beautifully done and there were so many unique features that you wouldn't find in a regular home.

When they bought the barn, the renovation was already complete. After a few years they began noticing signs of termites. This is bad news when the structure of your home is mostly wood.

When they had someone come and look at it, there was a lot more damage than what they had realized. I have no idea if these were swarming termites or not, but know they were devastated by the amount of damage that had been done before they were even aware they had a problem.

They ended up moving somewhere else because of this. They still had to take care of the problem before they were able to sell it, but they didn't want to continue with the upkeep and high heating bills.

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