Flying Termites: All You Need to Know About Winged White Ants

Flying Termites: All You Need to Know About Winged White Ants

Flying Termites: All You Need to Know About Winged White Ants
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The sight of flying termites can be alarming, to say the least. These little guys are often a sign of a bigger termite issue that you might not be aware of. But what exactly are they, what do they look like, and why do they fly?

Termite Reproductive Cycle and The Role of Flying Termites

First off, it’s important to understand that flying termites, also known as alates, are the future kings and queens of new colonies. They emerge from existing colonies as part of the termite reproductive cycle. These alates are ready to spread their wings—quite literally—to venture out and establish new colonies.

Depiction of the white ant life cycle showing alates, queens, and workers.
The termite reproductive cycle. “Alate” is the correct term for flying termite. Image from FLREC.

What Do They Look Like?

If you’re wondering what do flying termites look like, here are the basics:

  • Colour: Usually dark brown to black
  • Body: Two main segments
  • Wings: Two pairs of equal-length wings
  • Antennae: Straight and beaded
White ant alate with soldier termites
A Coptotermes termite alate with its wings, surrounded by soldier termites. Image from Pest Management Professional Magazine.

These characteristics set them apart from other flying insects and make it easier to identify them when they make their unwelcome appearance.

Flying Termites vs. Flying Ants

It’s easy to confuse flying termites with flying ants, but there are visual clues that help distinguish between the two:

  • Body Segments: Termites have two body segments (head and abdomen), while ants have three.
  • Wings: Termites have two pairs of wings that are the same length. In ants, the wing pairs differ in length.
  • Antennae: Termites have straight, beaded antennae, whereas ants have smooth, bent antennae.
Crematogaster ant alate
Flying ants are very different in appearance from flying termites. Image Credit: University of Florida.

These differences are crucial for identifying whether you’re dealing with a termite problem or an ant invasion.

Why Do Termites Fly?

Flight cuts in a cornice left by flying termites.
Flight cuts in a cornice in Wangaratta, VIC. If termites take flight from inside your house due to an active infestation, the visual signs can be alarming.

So, why do these termites fly in the first place? The main reason is to start new colonies. These new kings and queens fly away from their original nest to mate, land, and establish a new white ant nest.

They emerge through “flight cuts”, which are small openings chewed through trees, stumps, fence posts, or even from inside your house.

When a queen and king pair up, they detach their wings and search for a food source that has good moisture content to start the colony. This food source could be any tree or stump, and termites particularly like stacked firewood.

This is how termites spread and why seeing winged termites often means there’s an existing colony nearby that could threaten your house.

When Do Flying Termites Appear?

You’ll generally see flying termites in the summer, often when the weather is humid. They usually make their appearance before or after a storm or rain event in the summer months. The peak flight season is between November and February in our local area (Albury, Wodonga, Rutherglen, and Corowa). This is when you should be extra vigilant about termite activity.

Termite de-alates that have paired up after a storm.
Flying termites that have detached their wings and paired up in a roof gutter in Wodonga, VIC. I took this photo right after a rainstorm in January.

When is it a Serious Problem?

The sight of flying termites isn’t always a cause for immediate panic, but it’s crucial to understand when it’s a serious issue. If you notice them emerging from your walls or timbers and their numbers are in the hundreds or thousands, it’s a red flag indicating an active termite infestation. In such cases, urgent inspection and termite treatment are essential to protect your home from further termite damage.

Detached wings of flying termites in house in Albury NSW
Thousands of detached flying termite wings. These alates emerged from inside this house in Wangaratta, VIC, which points to an extensive termite infestation.

On the other hand, if you spot just a few flying termites here and there, it isn’t the end of the world. Most of these alates die without starting a new termite colony. However, their presence still means that termite colonies are nearby. So, it’s a good idea to schedule a termite inspection to identify risk factors and manage your termite risk accordingly.

Termite inspection in a subfloor after a client reported flying termites.
If you’ve seen a few flying termites, a timber pest inspection is a good idea.

Who Should I Call About Winged Termites?

We produced this advice for our clients in our local service areas of Albury/Wodonga, Rutherglen, and Corowa. We only have subterranean termites in our local area such as Coptotermes, Microcerotermes, Heterotermes, and Nasutitermes. Your area may have drywood termites and other subterranean termite species. You should contact your local pest controller for information specific to your area.

You can call us from 9 am to 5 pm on 02 6032 7137 or visit our Contact Us page for more ways to reach us.

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