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Termite Swarms Aren’t Reliable Indicators of Infestation

By Chris Williams on March 30, 2015.

I’m worried that we might have termites because I saw some things last fall that kind of looked like mud tubes on the basement wall. The Internet says that termites swarm in the spring. What should I be looking for if spring ever gets here? What do termite swarmers look like? A. F., Londonderry, NH

flying termite on leaf

Swarming Termite

First, you could have termites in your home and not have any spring swarmers at all. Subterranean termite colonies don’t produce swarmers (which are the reproductive stage) until they get to be a certain size. Really big swarms don’t occur until a colony is 8 to 10 years old. Even mature colonies don’t swarm reliably. Weather and other factors also influence swarming behavior (see Why Do Termites Swarm?)

What Do Termite Swarmers Look Like?

Termite swarmers, or reproductives, are black where worker termites are white. They have two pairs of clear wings, all of the same size. Swarmers are often confused with winged ants, but can be easily distinguished up close. For details, see How to Identify Swarming Termites. Both male and female swarmers leave the colony to mate and start new colonies in the soil.

A Termite Swarm is a Brief, Fleeting Thing

If you are using the expectation of seeing swarming termites to determine whether or not you have an infestation, you are making a big mistake. Even if your termite colony is big enough to swarm, there’s a very good chance that you would miss the event completely. A termite swarm is a very fleeting thing. The winged termites leave the ground, take to the air, and flutter weakly for a short time over a short distance. An entire termite swarm can be over in only minutes, and afterward there is little or no evidence that it ever occurred. If the swarm was inside your home, you might find only some shed termite wings remaining.

Secondly, a swarm would not always happen on the inside of your home. It’s very possible that the winged termites would exit to the outside of your home. But even if you see termites swarming outside, it’s most likely that they are from an old log or buried stump, and not from your home (see Outdoor Termite Swarms Don’t Mean an Indoor Infestation.)

A Termite Inspection is a Better Indicator

While you wait for termites to make a spring appearance, they could be chomping away on your structural wood. Call Colonial today. Our trained termite inspectors can tell you whether you have termites, and whether they are a threat to your home.

Photo credit: Derek Keats / Foter / CC BY

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