Subterranean Reproductives

Swarming Termites

Primary reproductives are the king and queen, the swarmers that started the colony. The king and queen mate periodically, and the queen may live as long as 25 years.Primary reproductives (king and Queen) range in color from honey to black. They are about 1/4 to about 1/2 inch in length. The male and female mate for life and are responsible for producing eggs that become the workers, soldiers, and future alates of the colony.

Supplementary reproductives are produced in mature colonies or within groups of termites at distant feeding sites. They have light colored bodies. If the primary queen dies, the supplementaries can take over. A mature queen can lay thousands of eggs each year. During the two-week incubation period, eggs are tended by the worker termites. The nymph hatches directly from the egg. Attendants feed nymphs regurgitated food for the first two weeks, enabling them through molting to become workers, soldiers, reproductives, or supplementary reproductives. As the reproductive nymph matures, its body lengthens and sexual organs develop. The body turns black, eyes become functional, and wings extend twice its body length.

These are winged reproductive termites (swarmers). Subterranean termite alates are day swarmers . After swarming, they drop their wings and look for a nesting site. Swarms usually occur in the morning after a warm rain.

Winged reproductives (alates) are coal black to pale yellow-brown, flattened and about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long, with pale or smoke-gray to brown wings. Alates are also known as "swarmers."

All the mature reproductives leave the colony at the same time, usually in the spring and sometimes in the fall. Swarmers are poor fliers and, when above ground, usually flutter a few yards and fall. Swarmers, emerging outdoors from tree stumps, railroad ties, etc., are usually not of concern and are in no way an indication that the structure is infested. After dropping to the ground, they shed their wings. Surviving males find compatible mates and then burrow into the ground to become king and queen. These termites live in nests underground and tunnel up for food, which includes the wood understructure of homes.

A very small percentage of swarming termites survive to initiate new colonies. Many are eaten by other insects, birds, etc. Likewise, swarms emerging inside a structure usually never survive. However, it is an indication of an infestation.

Swarmers have straight, bead-like antennae, a thick waist, and a pair of long, equal-length wings, that break off easily. The presence of winged termites, or their shedded wings, inside a home, should be a warning of a termite infestation.

They can be differentiated from adult winged ants that have elbowed antennae, constricted waists, forewings are larger than the rear wings (unequal size), and not easily detached.

See: Ant Control

difference ants and termites


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