Flying termite laying on its back.
A flying termite laying on its back – schedorhinotermes intermedius.

What are flying termites and what do they look like? What are the differences between flying termites and flying ants? How do I protect my house from a swarm? This page is here to help you identify flying Termites and give you the information you need to know.

What are Flying Termites?

Flying termites, also known as alates, are the winged reproductive caste in a termite colony. They swarm out of the nest on a colonising flight in the hunt for a breeding partner and a suitable nesting location.

There are three distinct Termite castes: Soldiers, workers and the reproductive caste. The reproductive cast, also known as alates, have the potential to become a king, queen or secondary reproductive within a colony. Only the reproductive termite caste will grow wings. They only use their wings for a single flight which may only last an hour or so.

What do Flying Termites look Like?

Flying termites are about 5 to 15 mm long, are typically dark beige, light brown or gold in colour and have two sets of wings which are pale and even in size. These winged reproductives will usually tan up in the weeks leading up to their colonising flight. Darkening of their exoskeleton allows them to cope better in the sun light.

Sometimes you won’t see the wings on them at all. But you will find they look a lot like an earwig, but without the claws on the end of them. You may find the wings and bodies of the flying termites dropped by the window sills, in light fittings, in spider webs, wet areas or stuck to the windscreen of your car.

Flying termites emerging from their nest.
These are termite alates emerging from their nest. They will fly off to find a mate from another colony and then start up their own nests. This is called their Nuptial flight.
Developing flying termite
This is a photo of a juvenile flying termite. They start out white and pale and later turn beige, brown, gold or black. You can see the two sets of wing buds it’s back.
Flying Termite within the nest – microcerotermes species.
Flying Termite Couple
A pair of alates, flying reproductive termites, after their swarm. A king and a queen that have dropped their wings and are now looking for a place to bunk up.

Termites flying in My Home – What Should I Do?

If termites are flying around light sources in your home, first try to identify where they are coming from. Are they coming through doorways, light fittings, near wet areas or out of small holes in the wall? Consider closing doors or windows, fly screens in an attempt to seal off points of entry. Turn off some lights to make your home less attractive for them and to lower the number of termites that make it inside your home.

Household Flying insect sprays may help if the swarm is unbareable. But there are not many products, if any, registered for this purpose. So you will need to make your own decision on this one as to whether or not is safe to do so. There is no need to panic if you find flying termites, but it is important to understand what is happening when you see them.

Flying termites stuck in spider web.
Two reproductive termites stuck in spider web. Here you can take a closer look at the wings which easily fall off.

Should I be worried?

Finding flying termites can be scary and unsettling but the reality is that the majority of flying termites in a swarm will not succeed in pairing up and finding a suitable nesting site. The biggest threat to your home is not the flying termites as they have yet to establish a colony so don’t lose sleep over it tonight if they are crawling around your floors.

The main threat to your property is from the parent termite colony from which the swarm originated. To have released a swarm of reproductive flying termites, the parent nest will certainly have a well established caste system at this point and is likely to be within foraging distance from your home.

We are regularly called to inspect homes after a swarm. It is common to find that the parent colony has already started to feed on timbers, gyprock within the home or have released the swarm from the mud tunnels on the walls inside or around the home.”

Termite flight tunnels emerging out of the ground 21st September – heterotermes species

Can flying Termites nest inside a house?

Yes, however it it may be comforting to know that the conditions inside our homes are not typically favourable for termites to build a colony. In general, they need to find a timber cavity with consistent moisture to establish a colony.

Timber framing inside most houses is usually too dry for termites to establish a colony, with the exception of drywood termites, although we do find some areas of the home suitable for them to nest.

Where could flying termites build a nest?

Under and around poorly sealed or leaking wet areas such as showers, baths and the tiled hob commonly separating these make for an ideal place for termites to establish a colony. Wet timber framing and chipboard flooring in these areas create a perfect environment for termites to build a nest.

This is one of many reasons why you should keep your house dry and free from leaks. Moisture is highly conducive to Termites, pests and wood rot.

There are two species of termites in Brisbane which build arboreal nests (up in trees), microcerotermes turneri and nasutitermes walkeri, that occassionally will build their nests up high in walls or in cupboards or roof spaces. Both of these species are less agressive with respect to property damage.

If you find a large number of flying termites or wings in your home, it can be cause for concern as they may have emerged from an infestation within your home. Feel free to send us a photo if you’d like us to have a look at anything you are concerned about.

How do I protect against flying termites?

Termite reticulation barrier installation.
Installing a reticulation system allows for easy replenishment of the termite barrier saving you money when it is time to refill in 8 years.

We recommend you check that your termite protection is up to date. The majority of termite infestations, including internal swarms, start off this way. The most effective post-construction termite barriers are chemical soil treatments. We recommend using the Termidor SC or Termidor HE Products to protect around your home. These have a life expectancy of up to 8 years.

Every house is different and depending on the construction type we may need to visit your property to decide on the most effective treatment option for you home.

Fly screens are your best defence against swarming insects and termites flying in. There are companies that specialise in security screens and fly screens for residential homes.

Drilling holes for termite barrier.
Drilling small holes through paths around the home for the Termidor soil application.

Flying Termite vs Flying Ant? Identification

There are some distinct differences between flying termites and flying ants, although, the fertile castes both leave the colony by flight. The most notable difference is the waist. Termites do not have a defined waist, but ants do. Both pairs of wings on termites are the same length, and have a vein running parallel to the top. Ants have two sets of wings, heavily veined and of different size. Please look at the stencils below to guide you.

TERMITE

Flying Termite Stencil
A flying termite has equal sized wings, beaded and curved antennae and a thick waist. Once they drop their wings to crawl, they look a lot like an earwig.

ANT

Flying ants look similar to a wasp. They are closely related too. The ant has three body sections, with a defined and skinny waist. The wings differ in both shape and size. The antennae also have elbows.

What Time of Year do Termites Swarm?

In South East Queensland the flying termite season typically starts in early spring. The season finishes around March. However, depending on the weather with droughts or heavy rain this can differ slightly from year to year. The flights may be delayed if there is not enough rain.

Anthropogenic climate change (global warming) may have an effect on the balanced swarming events. However termites are quite resilient and have accomplished a wide geographic distribution across our planet with the exception of colder climate areas. As termites struggle to survive in colder climates. Clear evidence of eusociality in termites have been discovered in 100 million year old amber. Eusociality is the type of social structure found within ants, bees, termites and more. Read more here from Entomology today which shows a beautiful image of a flying termite which does not appear to be much different from the alates we have today.

Do termites swarm after Rain?

It is in the best interest of the termite colony to send out their swarm of reproductives at precisely the same time as other colonies in the area. This ensures genetic diversity during the nuptial flight.

In 2018 we had 5 enquiries around 8pm on a Humid December night, within half an hour of eachother, reporting swarms across Brisbane Ranging from North Lakes to Forest lake and in the Western Suburbs. The swarms were from the same termite species but what fascinated me most was what had triggered the swarm…. I’ve always wondered how they all seem to ‘know’ when the right time is to swarm.

The Trigger:

From our observations over the past 3 years, it’s seems clear that a peak in low atmospheric pressure provokes the termites to take flight. This makes sense as a low pressure trough brings with it clouds, showers and a shift in wind due to the compressing forces which lift the moist air behind the low pressure trough. This lift may assist them fly higher and further from the parent colony in search of a compatible breeding partner.

Flying termites following a low pressure trough
Swarming events follow low pressure troughs like this one which occured over brisbane precisely when the air pressure peaked at the lowest for the month on Saturday 28/09/2019. This map is from Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. You can find it here.

This is why our main recommendation is to ensure your termite protection is up to date. Flying termites can be a real nuisance, but it’s the parent colony that you need to worry about. The most effective defence against these guys is by installing and maintaining your termite barrier.

Flight schedule

In Brisbane we primarily deal with 5 species of termites. It’s interesting that each species have aligned their flights in different months ensuring that the stage is clear of incompatible partners.

The rain is a threat to them mid flight and they may stagger the swarm to avoid it but it provides them with the the best conditions for establishing a nest. Once the ground has had a good drenching, their chosen nesting locations ie. in a tree stump, log, or in the fork of a tree, will be primed to help keep them from drying out and provide them with moist timber for the alates to feed on as they begin to establish a colony.

There has only been a few studies on this termite behaviour, however it will be intriguing to study these events more closely .

We hope to gain a deeper understanding of this phenomenon and invite any pest control operators to get in contact with us to discuss similar findings.

The West Indian Drywood Termite cryptotermes brevis – Alates

Cost to Benefit

The wings are costly equipment as they make it difficult for alates to manoeuvre within the termite mound and essentially renders these fit individuals relatively unproductive up until the swarm.

However the wings provide them with the ability to leave the nest in search of a mating partner from another colony. This ensures genetic diversity within the termite species and subspecies. Variations within the genetic pool allows termites to adapt to changing environments, through a process of natural selection.

Flying termites have very poor flight skills and use the wind to help them reach further. They usually do not swarm more than 100 metres from the colony. When the flying termites land next to a potential partner, from another colony, they will drop their wings and follow eachother ‘head to tail’ into their new home.

Do flying Termites Eat Wood? And are They Dangerous to Your Home?

Flying termites do eat wood, however as they’re the reproducing caste, their primary purpose is reproduction. It’s the worker termite caste that does the damage.

They will swarm, find another flying termite of the opposite sex and then mate. In a hurry the pair will burrow into the soil, or go anywhere they can find a good nesting spot. They need the workers to feed them.

The flying termites can establish a nest inside the house without contact with the ground, however they do need a moisture source like a leaking shower. These flying termites often struggle to find the conditions needed to establish a colony inside a house. They are actively looking for moist areas which is why it is common to find their bodies in wet areas like bathrooms and laundry rooms after a swarm.

Flying termites found in a bath tub after a swarm

Keeping windows and screens closed during a swarm can help to keep them out, although the chance of flying termites establishing a nest inside the house is fairly low. Termite entry through subterranean tunnels are the biggest threat to your house the colony is already established and mature enough to cause substantial damage to a home.

For How Long do Flying Termites Swarm?

There are two answers to this question:
1. If the weather conditions are favourable to the termites a colony will release a swarm for about one hour or two. After this hour the alates will settle to find a nesting spot.
2. If the weather conditions are unstable a colony may release portions of their flying reproductive termites over the span of a few weeks.

Whether the termites will swarm for only a few hours or spread out over weeks is highly dependent on the weather conditions. Humidity, rain, wind, atmospheric pressure and more play a big role in this.

The decision to swarm at or after the drop in atmospheric pressure seems to be an innate response amongst termites. This response to the weather is much like an involuntary reflex, but it means that they are more likely to find termites from other colonies to breed with. A higher variation and diversity of genetic material gives a chance for new and better adapted termite colonies to thrive. You can read more about this just above in the section: Do termites swarm after Rain?

How Long do Flying Termites Live?

Flying termites have a very long life expectancy of over 20 years if they are successful in their search for a mate and a good location for the colony. Although, they are very fragile during the swarm and most of them will be either eaten by any animal that sees them, or die due to exposure.

Are Flying Termites Dangerous and Can They Bite You?

Flying termites are not dangerous to humans. They won’t bite you, and they do not carry any diseases. They are however dangerous to your house, in the long run. If you have a lot of termites appearing indoors you may even have a nest in your home. If there is a colony living within your home there can be issues with mould due to the humidity they bring with them.

Further Reading

Below you can find a list of blog posts and pages on our website which are related to flying termites and termite swarming.

Contact Us!

Michael is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to termites and how to deal with them. So if you have any question just give him a call and he will do his very best to give you an accurate answer.

For a Free Quote on Termite Protection Phone Mike on 0447 268 257

Office: 3393 3515
Email:inspector@termiteguys.com.au