Every spring, millions of ants and termites fly off from their home colonies to begin their own. One of the biggest mistakes made when it comes to pests is misidentifying termite swarmers as flying ants. At a glance, their size can make these two appear similar; they are different in many physical and behavioral differences you can use to determine which you are seeing. But what are these differences, and how easy is it for a non pest professional to inspect to see if they are dealing with a termite swarmer or flying ant problem? Well, it might be easier than you think!
It is easy to make the mistake of seeing a small flying insect with a long body and thinking it is a flying ant. There are three main physical differences that you can look for if you spot either of these bugs. First, their wings. Whether you see the wings after they have shed them or you see the bug wings will be an easy first visual key to identification. Flying ants have four wings that are two different sizes. Their front-most wings will be longer and point more forward. The second pair will sit slightly behind those being shorter and pointed more straight out from their body. Swarmers have four equal-sized wings that, when shed they will be in big piles with other swarmer wings. Second, body shape can be harder to determine if you can’t get a good look at the ant or termite. But, if you do, your first look should be at the waist. Flying ants will have a thin waist compared to a termite swarmer who will have a cigar-shaped body. Other references are ants having a three-part segmented body of their head, thorax, and abdomen. Swarmers will have a two-part segmented body with their head then abdomen. The last antenna, termite swarmers have antennae that stick straight out that sometimes may be slightly curved. Flying ants differ as they will have noticeably bent antennas that sit at a 45 to 90-degree angle.
Especially when it comes to mating, termite swarmers and flying ants will act similarly. The main difference, swarmers will stick together in larger groups than flying ants, so seeing a large number of termite wings left behind is common. Both termite swarmers and flying ants will swarm for the same reason; the two are there to reproduce and start new colonies. When termite swarmers and flying ants begin flying, that means one, they are sexually mature, and two, their nest has overgrown and needs to branch out. So if you’re noticing a high number of either termite swarmers or flying ants, you could already have an established colony of termites or ants in or around your home. Both species mate while they are flying in something called the nuptial flight. A nuptial flight begins after the females release a pheromone that will attract males to start nesting and mating. When the time comes for nesting, each of the two insects sits on opposite ends. Termites need moisture to survive, so moist soil is critical for finding their new nest. Ants will need to stay away from moist soils because water washes away food sources such as honeydew.
Each pest has its season, and that period is usually referred to when populations are beginning to rise again. The two main times of the year with big pest seasons are mid-spring and late fall. Termites and ants fall into the same season, but they usually look for different conditions to begin their swarms. Spring is an ant’s ideal time because they want humidity. They tend to go out after about a two or three-day rainstorm as that will bring perfect humid conditions for them to thrive. Of the three types of termites, subterranean, dry wood, and damp wood, spring and summer are their favorite time of year. Subterranean termites like spring the most and want sunny days to swarm. Drywood and damp wood are more summertime swarmers.
The diets of flying ants and termite swarmers don’t differ from that of any other member of their species. These two only roles in the colony are to one day fly off and start new colonies so they eat what is brought to them. Termites have a very simple diet, they feed on cellulose which they obtain in wood, meaning homes are like a buffet for termites. Ants are much different, they will eat just about everything. Adult ants are unable to eat solid foods so that is why you see ants bring food back to their colony. Only larvae are able to eat the solid foods so they are fed to the larvae to break it down and it converts to a liquid which the adults will then feed on. Ants will go after most foods humans eat, pet foods, aphid milk, and even dead insects.
Seeing swarmers or flying ants is not the only way to determine a wood-destroying insect infestation. Professional pest management companies recommended that you routinely check for termites or other wood-destroying insects around your home.