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What are these insects flying around and inside my house?

It’s that time of year for Flying or Swarming Termites

Today, we have been inundated with calls from customers about finding these strange little insects flying around their outdoor lights, inside their homes, crawling along the floors. Eek!

It’s highly likely they are Winged Termites.

Normally termites are only in their subterranean tunnels under the ground. But from November to February or March, it is common to find the reproductive termites taking to flight, especially in South East Queensland. The humidity is very attractive (indeed necessary) to them.

At this time of year, they leave the nests (trees, tree stumps, bushland, even your home) to fly and begin new colonies. It has been incredibly wet in Brisbane this past few weeks, so you may have noticed them yourself.  This is what they look like (although they can vary somewhat in colour).

All termite species operate a caste system (in fact, their only real commonality with ants). One of their castes is the winged reproductive alates – or flying termites. They can be mistaken for flying ants, but it is relatively easy to spot the difference.

Clear differences between ant and termite alates

Most termites you’d be familiar with are quite pale in colour, almost transparent and are wingless.  They are also blind. Swarming termites however, or Alates are specially produced reproductives with black pigment, wings and eyes, and their sole task is to find a mate of the opposite sex and set up a home in a decayed log or stump where the female can lay a couple of dozen eggs, raise the babies and then allow the new brood to take over the care and maintenance of the new colony. The queen then goes about producing literally millions of eggs for the next 20 to 30 years.

When a termite colony reaches a certain size and maturity several thousand reproductive termites will start growing wings, preparing for a once in a life time flight.  It can take a few months to get them ready for their big flight and during this time they’ll be given the best of the foods and will be taken care of.  When they are ready, and when weather conditions are right (some of them swarm after rains, most when the weather is very humid. Most swarm at dusk), thousands and thousands of them can take flight from nests is the area, preparing to start new ones.

You’ll often see these winged or flying termites swarming around lights, whether street lights, or your outdoor light, if it’s left on. It’s there that they meet other termites of the same species, also swarming from their own colonies. After this, the fertilised alates shed their wings and go in search of a spot to make a nest and begin a colony of their own.

What should you do?

It can be disconcerting, to say the least for a home owner to suddenly find themselves surrounded by thousands of winged termites. You may fear that your home is about to come under attack and turn into mulch overnight.  Don’t panic though. The first thing to remember – alates are terrible flyers.  They really can only fly a couple of hundred metres from their original nest. Secondly, they can’t actually do any harm to your property (although the amount of Mortein you may find yourself tempted to spray at them is a whole other story 🙂 It won’t actually help though).

Unless you actually find these alates flying out of holes in your walls, cracks in your ceiling or from under your house etc, relax. Be on alert of course. But your house isn’t going to fall down tomorrow.  If you can, collect a couple of samples and put them in something like a ziplock bag, stored in the freezer.  Then book a termite inspection so that a qualified technician can come to your home and see if a nest has been set up somewhere in your property.

If you do notice the alates actually emerging from your home, it is a cause of concern. It means there is almost certainly already an active, large colony of termites at work on your house. If that’s the case, it’s vital that you book in a full termite inspection so that a qualified technician can advise you on the extent of the infestation and give you an idea of how to proceed from here.  If termite alates are swarming from your home, time really is of the essence.

Termite Inspection Info What should I do if I have found Termites?
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