Tis the Termite Time of Year

It rarely fails to be spring without a call from a friend, or two, or three … worried about the winged creatures crawling everywhere inside their houses. “Are these ants or termites?” “Is my house infested?” “Do I need to call an exterminator?” Here are the facts about our termite time of year.

For most of you, there is no need to panic about these wayward flyers that lay dying on your countertop. What may seem like a lot of termites is but a drop in the bucket of what emerged from the nearby colony. Unless these insects are coming directly from cracks within your home, these are the adults attracted to lights in your house and who squeezed through cracks in your doors or windows.

These are the reproductive males and females that emerge or swarm from colonies, as a means of overwhelming their countless predators, as they seek a mate. Most die in the process (all males last no more than a day), but the lucky few mated females will survive to form new colonies that can grow to include thousands of individuals, all daughters and sons of the founding queen.

So now that you are calm, here are a few more fun facts you can learn about termites before you sweep them out the door. First, they are easily distinguished from ants. Termites are mostly brown while ants are usually black. They have straight antennae, rather than the elbowed antennae of ants. Both groups have four wings, but the wings of termites are equal in length.

And although they literally fly in our faces when they swarm, they are always with us, out of sight and out of mind. They are important decomposers in our world. They are food for a myriad of other creatures. They are one of the most successful groups of insects on the planet, with over 3,000 named species. And while worker and soldier termites are short lived (months), queens can live upward of 40-50 years in some species.

So, there you have it. Knowledge is power. Pass it on.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

Photo courtesy of Sharon Milligan (Termite and Red Grass Spider)

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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