It can be common this time of year to see termite alates (or swarmers) – but what type of termites are they? Worldwide, there are over 2,000 termite species, but only about 50 of those species are found in the United States. Here in Savannah, Georgia, there are usually only 3 termite varieties found: Eastern Subterranean Termites, Drywood Termites, and Formosan Subterranean Termites. Proper identification is extremely important. An effective treatment strategy is not possible without sound integrated pest management.
Eastern Subterranean Termites
The Eastern Subterranean Termite is the most prevalent termite species in this area. They will feed on anything containing or made of cellulose (wood and wood products).
Eastern Subterranean Termites usually swarm between February and April, during the late morning or early afternoon. The alates are attracted to light, so they are usually found near windows or light fixtures. Swarmers are sometimes mistaken for flying ants, but there several distinguishing characteristics which can be used to tell them apart, which we have covered in another blog.
Drywood termites are usually found in dry wood, just like their name suggests, usually in warmer climates where freezing temperatures are rare. They get all of the moisture they need through their digestion process and the wood they consume, so they can live in dry conditions for a long time. Also, they are an exception for most termite species in that they do not need contact with soil to live. Drywood termites are commonly found in hardwood flooring, furniture, or in the frame of a structure. They can form separate colonies that exist independently of one another throughout a structure.
Drywood termite alates usually swarm at night during the spring, and they lose their wings shortly after emerging. If the swarmers are found in a structure, they could have come from inside the structure or there is the possibility that they came from an outside source.
Eastern Formosan Termites
The Formosan Subterranean Termite acquired its name because it was first described in Taiwan in the early 1900s. They were first discovered in the continental US in the 1960s in Texas, South Carolina, and Louisiana. A single Formosan Subterranean Termite does not eat or damage more wood than a native Subterranean Termite, but Formosan Subterranean Termite colonies can contain several million termites (versus several hundred thousand termites in a native Subterranean Termite colony) and just the sheer number and size of the Formosan Subterranean Termite colony can result in greater damage in a shorter amount of time. Once a Formosan Subterranean Termite colony is established (which takes about three to five years), it can be near to impossible to eliminate it. The Formosan Subterranean Termite is not nearly as prevalent in the United States as other subterranean termite species.
The alates (or swarmers) are yellowish-brown and around ½” long, and their wings are covered in tiny hairs. The large swarms of Formosans usually occur from April to July around dusk on humid evenings.