The sight of flying ants in and around the home alarms most people. Contrary to popular belief, flying ants are not always a sign of termites or termite infestations in a home.
Ants with Wings, Termites with Wings
Termites do indeed spread their species by swarming (sending winged reproductives out of the colony) but so do many species of ants. There are simple ways to inspect the insects to determine whether they are ants with wings or termites with wings. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is to inspect the body parts of the insect, which can be done without the use of a microscope or field glass in most cases. Termites have two visible body parts: a head and a body. All ants have three distinct body parts: head, abdomen and thorax. In other words, the ant's body is separated into two body parts.
We have all seen ants in our lifetime. Ants can be found indoors, outdoors, on plants, in our lawns and in flower or vegetable garden. There are many different species of ants in the United States but they all have one thing in common: the classic head, abdomen , thorax sections of their body. If you find winged insects in or around your home and want to make sure that they are not termites, pull back their wings and look closely at the body parts. If the bug you inspect looks like an ant, it is usually an ant. If it does not have three visible body parts but does have a head and a long body, it is probably a termite. Compare the body parts shown in the ant versus termite picture below.
Another identifying characteristic that separates
winged ants from winged termites is the antennae. All ants have antennae
that have a fairly severe bend or "elbow" but termite antennae to not
have this sharp bend. A termite's antennae are beaded, an ant's antennae
have segments that sometimes end in small club. These differences are
illustrated in the ant/ termite image.
The termite swarmer has four wings, as does the swarming ant. The difference lies in the length of the wings. When the wings of either flying insect are folded (in a resting position or when found dead) and appear to be two wings of the same or equal length. Closer inspection reveals the true evidence. When you gently spread out the wings you will find that there are now four wings, instead of two as noted in the termite and ant picture shown below. An ant swarmer and a termite swarmer both have 2 pairs or 2 sets of wings. The wings of a swarming termite are all the same length. The wings of a swarming ant are different. The front wings (those that are visible when the wings are not spread) are longer than the rear wings. When at rest, the front wings are folded over so that the rear set of wings are not visible.
Ants Versus Termites Picture
The three main points to consider are the number of main body parts, shape of antennae and length of wings. With this picture you can easily tell the difference between flying ants and flying termites or swarmers.
Winged Termites Found in Home
If you have inspected the flying insect and determined that it is indeed a termite your next question is obviously "What do I do now?"
We have many customers visit our showroom and store in Pensacola who bring bags or vials containing an insect that they want identified. They usually want to know if they have ants or termites. When we see that they are termites, we have a few questions that we put to our customers:
Termite swarmers found on the exterior surfaces of the home could have
merely landed on the sides of the home as the wind blew them in the direction of
the house. If this is the case, there is not too much to worry
about. If, however, the swarmers were observed flying out of the structure
from around windows, doors, garage doors, bay windows, porch columns or other
wood members or openings then there might be some concerns.
What you need to determine is if the termites swarmed to your house or from your house. Swarming from your house would indicate a possible termite infestation that should be taken care of as soon as possible. Swarmers that just landed on the exterior surface of your home mean just that - they happened to land on your home.
When these insects land on your home you must remember that a termite
swarmer cannot harm you. A termite swarmer is
designed for propagation of the species, not to eat wood. The
worker termite (the one that resembles a small, white ant) eats eat and does
extensive damage to buildings. Once a female subterranean termite swarmer
has successfully mated, she must burrow into the soil in a very short time
period. Of the multitude of swarmers seen, only one in every thousand has
a chance of being successful. Ants and other insects as well as reptiles,
birds and even the elements all take their toll on the swarmers. If the
mated female makes it past all of her natural enemies, she must also make it to
the safety of the soil. If she lands in areas where she cannot make it to
the protection of the soil, she will die.
Indoor Flying Termites
Locating flying termites inside of your home is not the most reassuring
sight. There are cases that look better than others. If only a
couple of swarmers are found indoors, they could have easily hitch-hiked indoors
on someone's shirt or sweater or they could have merely flown through an open
door or window. These pests have even been found crawling through
bathroom and kitchen vents.
We have many frantic phone calls from customers that want to purchase an
insecticide to kill the flying termites in their home. As noted above,
this is not necessary since the swarmers do not feed on your home. They
are a signal that there is a colony in or beneath the structure which means that
the home needs to be inspected and possibly treated by a professional that is
licensed for termite treatment.