Flying Termites

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Flying Termites

The Scourge of the Sky: Flying Termites

One of the first signs that a home might have a termite problem is the presence of flying termites, which present a very noticeable public showing by appearing in large swarms around the infested area. Flying termites should be considered a fairly ominous sign, as they indicate the existence of an established and mature colony; in fact, most colonies will not produce a swarm until they are four or five years old.

Flying Termites or Flying Ant?

Termites are (understandably) one of homeowners’ worst nightmares because of the destruction they wreak and the repair bills they leave in their wake. Because of this, there tends to be a panic whenever a vaguely termite-looking flying creature appears in or around one’s house. While it is smart to be vigilant and cautious, calling in an exterminator every time one spots something that might be a termite is not financially responsible. For this reason, it is advisable that homeowners learn how to identify termites and look-alike species. The insect most commonly mistaken for a flying termite is the flying ant, which can seem to bear a very similar appearance to the termite if one is not aware of the basic differences between the two.

Luckily, as long as one knows what they are looking for, distinguishing ants from termites is quite simple. Looking to the provided picture, we can see that although their bodies include the same basic parts (wings, torso, antennae, etc.), the form these components take are wildly different. Major differences include body shape, with that of the flying termite being more uniform in width than that of the flying ant, as well as the shape of the wings, and the appearance of their antennae. 

The Role of the Flying Termites

Termite society is governed by a social system similar to the caste system in the human world. There are different tiers of individuals, from kings and queens to workers, and has its own specific job. Winged termites make up one level of the caste system, yet it is interesting to note that termites are not born with wings, nor do they develop them soon after birth. Rather, wings are developed shortly before a swarm occurs, amongst certain members of the worker class. Those that have become flying termites, or “alates,” and head for the exit. Once outside the colony, they select a mate from amongst the other fliers and take their first and only flight. When they land, their wings break off, and they proceed to make a nest and mate, after which the new queen lays her eggs. Unfortunately for the new royal couple, most will not survive to see their kingdom develop, as they are a source of food for toads, birds, and other animals (perhaps those seeking to add a little class to their lunch?). In this way, the original colony is able to keep its population at a reasonable size by sending off great portions of its members to mate and start their own colonies, yet as humans we are not awash in new termite colonies because very few survive long enough to be able to establish one.


What are flying termites? They are many things: not ants, but workers, flyers, potential royalty, possible parents, colony-establishers, but they will most likely end up as dinner.

 This Article Explains a lot about the different types of Termite Critters You’ll Be Likely to See!


Halton, Beau (1997) “Termite Swarms Are Taking Wing Early,” The Florida Times Union, March 9. Available from: (Accessed 8 October 2014)., Termite Swarm. Available from: (Accessed 8 October 2014).

“Tips to Halt Spring Termite Infestations,” St. Joseph News-Press, September 18, 2012. Available from: (Accessed 8 October 2014).

Wilson, Tracy V. How Termites Work. Available from: (Accessed 8 October 2014).