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Are Flying Termites Different?

By Chris Williams on July 31, 2014.
Swarmer termite

Termite swarmer

white termites feeding on wood

Subterranean worker termites

Subterranean worker termites and swarmer termites look so very different that people often think they are two different insect species. They’re not, just different forms of the same species. Worker termites are whitish, wingless, and soft-bodied without any protective cuticle on the outside. That’s why you rarely see worker termites. They either stay in the ground, in their mud tubes, or inside wood. If exposed to air, their bodies would dry out quickly and they would die.

Same Termite, Different Purpose

Swarmer termites (also called alates or reproductives) are the reproductive form of subterranean termites, the future kings and queens of new kingdoms. Unlike worker termites, swarmers have a hard, dark brown or black cuticle that protects them. They also have two pairs of wings of equal size that break off shortly after their first, rather weak flight. Winged termites don’t damage wood like worker termites. Their sole purpose is to leave the ground colony, mate, and begin new termite colonies.

Flying termites are produced by the same colony that produces the white worker termites. Winged termites do not first appear until a colony is many years old. When the time is right, termite nymphs are produced that are destined to become winged swarmers. Fully developed swarmers sometimes wait in the colony for months for just the right conditions of temperature and humidity to exit for their short flight.

Being “Queen” is No Bed of Roses!

Most of the swarmers don’t live long after they emerge from the ground; they’re picked off by birds and other predators. Those that survive will dig a new soil nest, mate, and the female will begin her reign as “queen.” She will never see the light of day again. Her new royal status means a lifetime underground laying eggs to produce new little worker termites.


By த*உழவன் (talk) 12:54, 31 October 2009 (UTC) (1.USDA (Image), 2.USDA (Freedom of information)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa (Flying termites) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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