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Outdoor Termite Swarms Don’t Mean an Indoor Infestation

By Chris Williams on May 1, 2013.
Termite swarm indoors

Question

My son just pointed out what looks like a termite swarm on our back patio. They seem to be coming from railroad ties that form a border around a large planter box by our deck. Does this mean that we should have a termite treatment? How do we know they aren’t in the house, too?

Answer

I can’t guarantee that you don’t have termites in your home without performing an inspection, but if your only evidence is termites swarming outdoors, you shouldn’t be too concerned. Most people don’t realize that termites are everywhere in their yards. Anyplace that there is buried wood (an old tree stump), or damp wood in contact with soil (fallen branches or a firewood pile), you can find subterranean termites.

Termites nest in the soil but they travel through the soil, or in above-ground mud tubes, to reach the wood that they feed on. Chances are that your railroad ties have become termite food and there may be a colony in the ground nearby. Although that close proximity may worry most people, that does not mean that you have termites in your home. We also have to consider the fact that what you saw could be winged swarmer ants instead of termites. They look very similar. Termites do swarm in the spring, but so do many types of ants.

Most subterranean termite colonies don’t send out swarmers until the colony is several years old. While the whole purpose of a termite swarm is to start new little termite colonies, the chances are slim that these termites would find each other, mate, and also find the right conditions to invade your house. Most termite swarmers are picked off by birds and other predators, or die before they ever get the chance to reproduce.

However, since you could have an established termite colony quite close to your house, you might want to schedule a termite inspection for your own peace of mind. It’s also important to determine whether you have a protective termite barrier around your home. Our trained inspectors will determine whether the swarmers were termites or ants, and will check your home for any evidence of termites or hidden termite damage.
Professional pest control technicians can also point out any conditions in and around your home that might be attractive to termites and that can be easily corrected. At the very least, it would be a good idea to replace those railroad ties if they appear to be rotting and are infested with either termites or ants.

At Colonial, we also offer a termite baiting/monitoring system that can be installed around the outside of your home and that will intercept and act as an early warning system for termites. Foraging termites find and feed on the treated wood in the in-ground tubes, and carry the bait back to kill other termites in the colony.

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan / Foter.com / CC BY

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