For Release March 28, 2004
Get Ready for Swarming Termites
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
With April just around the corner bringing us warm springtime showers, homeowners are very soon going to start to see swarming termites and swarming ants. For reasons that we can probably understand, few things strike terror in the heart of a homeowner than the sight of termites around the home! While I can certainly understand the panic that homeowners go through when they think they have termites in their home, the truth is that there is little need for panic.
Termites are extremely common in eastern Kansas. They are found in most of our yards on an annual basis. If you don't think so, just take a plain pine stake, drive it in the ground now, and pull it out of the soil in September and see. So termites will be a constant threat to homes. Likewise ants are very common in Kansas with over 115 species known to reside in our fine state. While ants and termites have some common characteristics, they are very different insects.
Ants and termites live in highly social colonies with several castes of workers. There are queens, who are tended to, who's sole purpose is to lay eggs. Their are nursery workers and food collectors and even guards to protect the colony. In the spring, when most colonies of any size and age need to divide, they produce winged reproductives or winged males and females which will swarm in great numbers when the weather conditions are right. The right weather conditions are relatively warm temperatures and high humidity, usually shortly after a spring rain.
Swarms outside your house are not necessarily a problem. They can be swarming from very near your home and still not be living in your home. Swarms originating from within the house are a concern, especially if they are termites. Ants, even carpenter ants, are far more of a nuisance than a destructive pest. If we were in Minnesota or Wisconsin, carpenter ants would be a greater concern, but usually in Kansas they are merely an annoyance.
So how do you determine if those swarming insects with wings are ants or termites? First of all capture a few, without squishing them, and put them in a clear resealable bag. Then look for three key characteristics. Do they have pinched in wasp like waists or are they thick bodied all the way through? Ants are related to wasps and will always have a thread like waist. Termites are not related and are thick bodied from head to thorax to abdomen with no pinched in areas.
Look at the wings. Both have two pairs of wings. In termites, the wings are he same size. Since wings are fragile and fall off easily you can often find wings in windowsills. Ants have two different sized pairs of wings. One pair is only half the size of the other pair. Finally look at the antenna. You may need your magnifying glass to do this one! Ants have antenna with obvious joints or elbows. Termites have continuous antenna without joints. They look more like a string of tiny beads.
If you find you have ants, talk with an exterminator about dealing with them. If you find you have termites, DON'T PANIC! A termite colony in Kansas will generally not swarm until it is at least seven years old. They've already been there a while. An entire colony of termites eating on the same board would take nearly two months to eat a one foot piece of 2 x 4. Take your time to have several companies come in and give you bids. Either baits or traditional perimeter treatments are effective. Ask for local references and call these folks up and ask questions. There's a good chance that someday your house will have termites. Take your time and make sure you get a good firm to help you deal with them!
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