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Could Be Termites – Are They In or Out?

By Chris Williams on April 4, 2014.

Termite versus AntsQuestion

My son just found some dark flying insects by our back door that I think might be termites. How can we find out for sure? –L.J., Framingham, MA

Answer

Don’t panic. The first thing to do is to capture some of them in a jar or baggie and keep them for identification by an expert like a pest control technician. We are fast approaching the main swarming season for termites in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Early spring is when we get similar, panicky calls from homeowners.

The winged insects could be any number of things. If you look up subterranean termites on the Internet, you’ll get an idea of what the alates (or swarmers) look like. One clue to help identify termite swarmers is that their wings drop off shortly after they finish their swarming flight. If you find a pile of wings, they might be termites. You can even confirm their identity with the wings alone (see below).

How to Tell Winged Termites From Winged Ants

Colonial Pest Control Termites Ants

Click to view larger image

The two winged insects most often confused in a situation like this are termite swarmers and ant swarmers. They are usually both dark in color, similar in size, and have two pairs of wings. If you can look at them more closely, you will see that both pairs of wings of swarmer termites are the same size, while winged ants have a larger front pair of wings and a smaller hind pair. The veination in termite and ant wings is different, too, but that gets a little more involved.

Their antennae are also different. Termites’ antennae (or feelers) look like tiny strings of beads. Ants’ antennae are segmented (but not beadlike) and there is a distinct elbow bend in the middle of their antennae. Ants have what we call a “wasp-waist” which means they are cinched in the middle, separating a distinct thorax and abdomen. Termites, on the other hand, don’t have a waist; their bodies are the same thickness throughout. When in doubt, contact an expert.

Indoor Termite Swarmers Are a Serious Concern

My biggest concern is that you didn’t say on which side of the back door the insects were found! Swarming termites on the outside could have come from an old tree stump, rotting railroad ties, or any damp wood sitting on the ground. It’s not hard to find termites outside and you don’t need to be concerned that the swarmers are going to attack your house. If, however, the winged insects were on the inside of your back door, that’s another story. Swarming termites on the inside usually means that there is an established colony somewhere in your home (or it could mean that someone left the back door open).

If your winged insects were found inside, you should get them identified. If they’re termites, you should contact an exterminating company for a full inspection of your home. If you contact Colonial, we can identify the insects for you on the spot. Even if your insects are not termites but were found inside, you probably need professional services to get rid of them. If they are carpenter ant swarmers, they can damage the wood in your home just like termites.

Photo by Agricultural Research Service / Public Domain

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