By Wade Hutcheson
Georgia Extension Service
Swarming is often the first sign of termite trouble a homeowner sees. But if you see one, don't panic.
A natural part of ants' and termites' regeneration process, swarming events are short-lived. Even if it is termites, there's time to respond properly.
Here's what's happening when termites swarm, how to distinguish between ants and termites and how to respond.
What's a swarm?
First, the swarm. It's the sudden emergence of hundreds, possibly thousands of swarmer ants or termites from their underground nests. It often lasts only minutes. The swarmers are winged reproductives being sent out to mate and start a new colony.
Several days of above-average temperatures followed by a light rain will trigger the event. When conditions are right, swarmers will emerge and disperse. They fly only a short distance, since they're poor flyers.
When they fall to the ground, they lose their wings and begin looking for a mate. The lucky ones pair off and begin their search for a new colony location.
Most swarms occur from March to May during the daytime. But they can happen anytime during the warm season. A single colony can swarm more than once, but the first swarm will be the biggest. It's common for colonies in the same area to swarm on the same day.
Ants or termites?
As I said earlier, both ants and termites can swarm. Examine a swarmer to see if it's an ant or a termite. To tell termites from ants, look for:
- A straight, beaded antennae. (Ants have elbowed antennae.)
- No waist. (Ants have a pinched waist between body regions.)
- Two pairs of wings of the same size. (Ants have two pairs, too, but the front wings are larger than the hind pair.)
Having a swarm of termites inside the home is cause for alarm, but try to control your panic. Remember, these guys have small mouths, take small bites and damage wood slowly.
If it takes a month to select a termite control company, that's OK. It's better to take the time to select a company that will give you the best, most honest effort at ridding your home of termites.
Dan Suiter, an Extension Service entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, has studied termites for years. He offers this advice on hiring a termite control professional:
- Hire a pro. Don't try to treat your home, in any way, for termites. Only by hiring a professional can you get the techniques, products and equipment needed to adequately rid a home of termites.
- Ask friends and neighbors about their experiences with local companies. Selecting a termite control company is like choosing any other service or business. Consistently good recommendations are your best bet. So ask around.
- Call your local Better Business Bureau about companies in your area.
- Call the Georgia Department of Agriculture to be sure a prospective company owns a state pest control license.
- Before signing a company's termite control contract, be sure you clearly understand what the contract covers and what it doesn't. Read the fine print.
- Have your home inspected annually for termites. Try to arrange the inspection during a warm time of the year, when termites will be most active. A thorough inspection should last an hour or more, and if you have a crawl space, the inspector should be dirty after the inspection.
Termites are a part of life, especially in Georgia, or the termite belt. All homes should be inspected annually and treated when necessary. Seeing a swarm is interesting, but seeing one inside your home is a signal you need to pay attention to.
(Wade Hutcheson is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent serving Spalding, Henry and Newton counties.)