Flying termites are the reproductive caste members, or “alates” of their termite colonies. All termite swarmers are alates. Flying termites are responsible for seeking mates, laying eggs, and starting new colonies. While swarms aren’t directly dangerous, you definitely don’t want them to make a new colony anywhere near you.

The most common species of termite in Michigan are Eastern Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes), but drywood termites also reproduce via swarming alates. Remember: any termite infestation you encounter started with flying termites, so getting rid of any flying termites near you is crucial for preventing future infestations. Here’s everything you need to know to do that:

Do termites fly?

Not all termites fly. There are three castes of termites within a termite colony: workers, soldiers, and reproducers, or alates. Alates are the only type of termites that can grow wings. Subterranean, dampwood, and drywood termites each have a flying alate caste.

Termite with wings side profile

What are termites with wings?

Flying termites, or alates, are the reproducers of their termite colony. They are responsible for seeking out mates from other colonies. Single colonies produce both male and female alates. Colonies are capable of either inbreeding by pairing male and female alates from the same colony, or outbreeding by pairing male and female alates from different colonies.

Alates seek mates during breeding season (which is generally mid-February to March in Michigan).Only mature termite colonies that are three or more years old produce alates, so if you see some, chances are you’re dealing with an advanced termite infestation. On the bright side, swarmers can be a signal that it’s time to take action now – before the alates make yet another new colony to deal with!

What do flying termites look like?

Eastern subterranean termite alates are around ⅜” (10 millimeters) long with their wings folded. Whereas workers and soldiers are usually tan, dark orange, or light brown, flying termites are dark brown or black in color.

Flying termite’s wings are a translucent burnt orange color with a smoky, dark membrane. The wings measure about twice the length of the alate’s body when unfolded in flight. Alates are also the only caste of termite that have compound eyes.

flying ants vs termites
Flying termites pictured above
Flying ants pictured below
Flying termite (above)
Flying ant (below)

Flying ants vs termites

A lot of people mix up ants and termites because many ant species, including the wood-consuming carpenter ants, also have flying ant castes. In order to tell if the insects you’re dealing with are ants or termites, look for each of the following identifying characteristics:

  1. Wing length: Both flying ants and termites have two pairs of wings, but termite’s pairs are both of equal length. Flying ants’ front wing pair is longer than their second pair.
  2. Antennae: Flying termites’ antennae are broken into small, bead-like segments and look straight from beginning to end. Flying ants’ antennae have longer segments and the antennae noticeably curve or “elbow” at mid-point.
  3. Waist thickness: Flying termites have thick waists that are about the width of the rest of their bodies. Flying ants are more clearly segmented and have very thin waists.
  4. Dirt piles: Evidence of ant infestation is often easier to find than signs of termite infestation, because ant mounds are clearly visible outside around the site of infestation. If you can find dirt piles around your home, then the swarms around you are probably flying ants.
  5. Mud tubes: Termite colonies create mud tubes to access the wood they consume. Mud tubes are hollow corridors of mud and dirt that termites use to climb up the sides of walls until they can start tunneling through wood. If you find vein-like mud tubes running up the side of your home, then the flyers you see are probably flying termites.

What is a flying termite swarm?

Flying termites alate swarm

During mating season, all of the alates within a mature termite colony leave the nest to seek mates. Female alates, or would-be “Queen” termites release a pheromone attracting potential mates as they fly. Male alates from both the potential Queen’s colony and other colonies flock to this pheromone seeking a mate. The termite swarm is a large concentration of male alates attracted to a female’s pheromone.

Termite swarms are a key indication that termite mating season is in full swing – and that termites will be creating new colonies soon. When a male and female termite successfully mate, they will travel to a good place to start a colony together and then lose their wings. From this point on, they’re known as proper “King” and “Queen” termites and become the primary reproducers of a new colony.

Do flying termites bite?

No. Flying termites will never bite, sting, or otherwise directly harm humans at any time. There is no evidence that humans may contract diseases by coming into contact with them, either. In fact, termite swarms want absolutely nothing to do with you.

Unfortunately, however, they want plenty to do with the wood in your home. While termites aren’t directly dangerous, the infestations they lead to can pose quite a threat to your property!

What are common signs of flying termites?

Flying termites discarded wings on the ground

Flying termites aren’t a sure sign that you have a termite infestation… but unfortunately, the more you see, the more likely it is. If you see any alates indoors, for instance, then your home already has an advanced termite infestation. Remember: it takes years for colonies to develop enough to produce alates, so if they’re active near you, then the colony you’re dealing with is well-established.

Flying termites lose their wings when they mate or age out of reproductive capacity. Look for discarded wings around window sills, door frames, and wood. The more wings you find, the worse the infestation. While you’re in the area, look for the mud tubes described earlier around vulnerable areas outside. Finally, look for actual termite damage around your home. Termite damage can look like rotting wood, but look carefully for signs of tunneling or for termites themselves.

How to Get Rid of Flying Termites

Flying termites on the side of a home

First and foremost: treat the termite infestation itself. Chances are, if you’re encountering flying termites, especially indoors, then you’re dealing with a colony. The only way to wipe out your flying termites for good is to wipe out that colony. Look for other signs of damage. If you find them, call in the pros at Griffin Pest Solutions right away. Our Sentricon treatments can wipe out termite colonies of all severities and help ensure they never return.

That said, there are actually some “quick” treatments to help flying termites away during swarm season. First, cover or remove all the wood you possibly can. Remove tree stumps, take out mulch, pick up fallen twigs and sticks, bring in firewood, and cover your shed. Next, spray orange oil over surfaces where you’ve seen termites. Cover any areas where you think termites might go, too. The harsh citrus taste and smell will help repel the insects.

 

Unfortunately, these quick treatments are a band-aid at best. Until you confront the root of the flying termites problem, it will be very difficult to keep swarms from bothering you all season. Luckily, you have a great option for confronting that root problem: Griffin Pest Solutions.

As soon as you think you have a termite problem, just give us a call any time. Our experts will track down your termite infestation, wipe it out completely, and help make sure it never comes back. Beating termites – flying or otherwise – back to where they belong is what we do. No ifs, ants, or bugs!

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