Contributed by: Doug Webb
Updated on: August 18, 2022
Subterranean termites, which are the most common type of termite in the United States, are notorious for their underground activities. While the image of a termites tunneling through mud tubes, dry wood, or underground is usually what first springs to mind, you may not be aware of flying termites. This phenomenon is actually quite common.
Why do termites fly? What should you do when you notice flying termites? Here's what you need to know.
Can termites fly?
Yes, some termites can fly, but not all of them. Different species of termites can fly during their reproductive stage, but only a certain caste of termite has wings. These winged termites are called “alates" or "swarmers" because of the way they fly together in a group. These winged termites can only fly a short distance and during a limited time of the year. Once the winged termites land, they shed their wings.
Why do termites fly?
Termite swarms are triggered by rain and high humidity and can occur across different species of termites. Termites prepare for flight during the spring and fly after rain to ensure their best chance for survival. However, not all termites fly, depending on their role within the colony and the stage of their life cycle.
Flight is an integral part of termites' reproductive process. Flying termites are adult reproductive termites. When conditions are right, subterranean termite swarmers develop within the colony and leave their underground nests to mate and start new colonies. Similarly, drywood swarmers leave their mud tubes and homes in wood to mate and create a new colony elsewhere.
Termite swarms can occur throughout the year but are most common when the weather is warmer, particularly in the spring. The species of termites and geographic location can also factor into when termites swarm. Once they've mated and and found a place to start a new colony, these swarmers will shed their wings.
Flying termite facts
There's more to know about flying termites than you might think!
- Termites with wings aren't that fast: In a race between a flying ant and a flying termite, the termite will always lose.
- Tasty treats: Packed with protein, termites are eaten by humans in some parts of the world for their nutritional value.
- Wingless: Flying termites lose their wings after their first flight.
- Missing the masses: Only about one in every 1,000 flying termites will successfully mate and start a new colony.
If you see winged insects around your home, don't take a chance. Contact Terminix® for a free termite inspection and help make sure your home is safe from termites.
What do winged termites look like?
Flying termites have one thing in common: they all have wings. However, these winged swarmers differ slightly in their appearance depending upon their species. Drywood termite swarmers range in color between red to dark brown to pale tan with transparent or smoky grey wings. Subterranean termite swarmers are approximately three-eighths of an inch long and are dark-brown or blackish and their wings extend beyond their bodies.
In addition to the slight difference in these winged termites' appearance, you can tell drywood swarmers from subterranean termite swarmers by the time of year you see them out and about. Most subterranean termites swarm and mate during spring and summer, while drywood termite swarms can be spotted during late summer and throughout the fall.
Winged termites vs. winged ants
You can tell winged termites from flying ants by looking at their respective waists. Flying ants have a narrow, pinched waist and bent antennae. By contrast, flying termites have straight antennae and a thicker, wider waist and body. Additionally, a swarmer termite has wings that are equal in length, as opposed to ants' wings, which have a longer set of front wings and a shorter set of back wings.
Learn more about the differences between termites and ants.
When do flying termites come out?
Termites only develop wings once a colony has matured and needs to expand. Usually, termite colonies mature within three to four years. At this stage, these winged termite swarmers will leave the nest to seek out mates in order to form new colonies. Most fly during the day, although some fly at night, using lights as meeting spots. After fertilization, the winged termites head toward the ground where they break off their own wings and attempt to form a new colony.
Do flying termites mean you have termites?
Not necessarily. Termites are easily blown by the wind. A single termite outside a window or door does not always indicate a termite problem. That said, do termites fly in the house? If there is a swarm of flying termites in your home, that usually means a colony of termites is present nearby.
The presence of swarmers means that a colony either may have already matured after spending time within your walls, or this new flight of swarmers is planning to set up shop in or near your home. In either case, termites have probably been in the area for quite awhile, and you should get your home inspected to mitigate the risk of termite damage.
How can you tell if you have a termite infestation?
The sudden appearance of termite swarmers indoors is a sign that termites may be present in your home and a good reason to get a termite inspection. However, seeing winged termites shouldn't be the only reason to get a termite inspection. It is best to get a termite inspection before you start are seeing swarmers.
Learn more about identifying signs of termite infestation.
How can I defend against a flying termite swarm?
Perhaps the best defense against winged termites is a properly maintained home. This includes proper drainage, storage, ventilation and, most importantly, having a professional inspect your home for termites annually.
If anything, seeing flying termites can be helpful by indicating a termite problem that may otherwise remain undetected until damage has been done. Keep an eye out, and be sure to read the signs when you see them.