Order: Blattodea (Isoptera)
Termite swarmers! What does it mean and what should you do? It means you are going to have to spend some money on termite control and that you should start getting bids from pest control companies.
Finding termite swarmers inside a building is a clear indication the building is infested and needs to be professionally treated. Termites swarm only once per year, but they are active 365 days a year and it takes several years for a colony to grow large enough to produce swarmers. By the time you see termite swarmers in a building, the building been infested for several years and has one or more healthy active colonies containing tens to hundreds of thousands of termites. Time to put a stop to that!
There are several common misconceptions about termite swarmers: 1} “Those things show up about this time every year, but they don’t seem to be causing any problems.” 2} “I vacuumed them all up and have not seen any more, so I guess they are all gone.” 3} “I sprayed them with bug spray and killed them all; nipped that problem in the bud.” 4}“I’m worried those things might infest our house!” None of these statements is true. In the first three cases, the swarmers may be gone, but the colony that produced them is still there and still eating your house. In the last case, subterranean termite swarmers need access to moist soil, or some other source of moisture to establish a colony. Swarmers that are trapped inside a building will die of desiccation (drywood termites are an exception, but fortunately these are rare).
The bottom line is that when it comes to termites, what you can’t see can hurt you. In one sense, seeing termite swarmers is cause to be thankful. At least it gives warning the building is infested without you having to find out by discovering serious structural damage.
Exception: The only exception to the idea that finding swarmers inside a building means the building is infested occurs in areas with high populations of Formosan termites. Because Formosan termites swarm at night and are attracted to lights, low numbers of swarmers sometimes get into buildings that have already been properly treated and are not currently infested. Still, if more than a dozen or so Formosan swarmers are found inside, this probably means the building is infested and it is time to have the building inspected. More important, if you live in an area with this kind of Formosan activity, it is important to make sure the building is properly treated even if you have not seen swarmers inside.
See Extension Publication 2568, Protect Your House from Termites, for more information on termite biology, signs of infestation, and how to control termites.
Extension Publication 2765, What Homebuilders Need to Know About Termites, contains additional information that will be of special interest to new home builders, and Table 1 of this publication contains information on how long the various soil-applied termite treatments last.
Also visit the MSU Extension Termite Website.
Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service.
The information given here is for educational purposes only. Always read and follow current label directions. Specific commercial products are mentioned as examples only and reference to specific products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended to other products that may also be suitable and appropriately labeled.