Launch of the Swarmers

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Films revolving around murderous, marauding and mutated insects – and arachnids – have been causing moviegoers to cringe, itch, and scream for decades. From the 1954 cult classic “Them” where giant irradiated ants rampage over New Mexico, to the sci-fi hit the “Fly” insects have been depicted as the creepy crawlers, that devour cities or at least burrow into your skin, and nest in your ear. 1978 saw the release of “The Swarm” – Monsters by the millions. This B Movie about killer Bees bombed but the idea of millions of swarming insects taking to the skies and descending on your defenseless home can still give you a case of the itches.

Ok, the National Guard isn’t going to be called out to take on this invading force, but termites do swarm every year like clockwork. This phenomenon happens when a termite colony becomes “mature” (which takes anywhere from 3-7 years) and large enough to branch out to create new colonies. During the spring the weather conditions are perfect for the termites to take flight, but in some parts of the US, this swarming can happen anytime of the year. Swarms are comprised entirely of kings and queens ready to mate for life and build their new home – sort of an insect love story. When conditions are right, a day following a rain shower when the weather is overcast and winds are under six mph., the swarmers will emerge from their mud tubes and launch into the air and pair off. These swarms can be so big that they can be seen on satellite radar. Swarmers are larger than the soft-bodied subterranean termites and have wings that will drop when they begin to bury themselves back underground as they look for a suitable place to start a home.

The female, or queen, will pick their new location next to a food source and wet-ground environment. Once settled in this “Mother of All Termites” will start to make babies, laying up to 30,000 eggs a day. But she does not create structural damage; she doesn’t feed on wood or other cellulose material like the workers do. Workers are the small, white, and blind termites that create all the damage and continue foraging for more food sources even when they have food.

It’s not all baby making and feasting, only a small amount of the swam survives the airborne assault to produce colonies. Sometimes the alates (winged termites) land on surfaces like roads, building roofs, or parking lots that are too hot. In the open swarms are tasty treats for birds, lizards, and other small animals.

Termite swarmers range in color from yellow to black depending on the species. Like many other flying insects, termites are attracted to light and are often seen swarming around street lights or window sills. Seeing them is a pretty good sign that a colony is living nearby. If you see a swarm close to your home, you should call a professional. If you can find their wings or a handful of swarmers near the windows or in corners, try to leave them for the pest management professional to be able to see as they can identify species.

Don’t be alarmed like the horror movies show: you can prevent this from happening or happening again if you have flying termites present in your home. Using TERM® Barriers, you can build out the termite entry points during construction where the particles, sealant, screens, or membrane can be applied. These solutions are non-chemical, environmentally-friendly, easy to install and protect your building from water intrusion, which is an attractive environment for the termites. We can give this horror a happier ending.

Holly Beard, M.S. Entomology, 1LT USAR, CSI, WWYW

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