This time of year you may notice insects with wings entering the structure in droves. Entomologists refer to winged termites as “alates.” The alate is simply the adult, sexually mature stage in the termite life cycle. Alates develop in the colony from immature stages prior to the flight season.
Termite alates will stay inside the colony waiting a perfect day or night to come out. Some species of termites prefer a day with bright sunlight, warm temperatures, low winds and typically come out after a good rain storm. Some species will come out on a warm night.
When the time is right, termites from different colonies all across the state of Florida will swarm at the same time. Male and female swarmer termites look for a mate from another colony. Once they find one they pair up, break off their wings and start a new colony. Subterranean Termites find a moist area in the soil in which to live. Drywood Termites find an opening in a piece of dry wood, possibly in the walls or attic, and Formosan Termites will reside either in the soil or inside the walls of the structure.
It is a good idea to keep an eye on the occurrence of swarming events in the neighborhood. Be prepared for a possibility of infestation and be proactive. Annual inspections are recommended in areas of high swarming events.
If you find a few alates inside a structure it does not necessarily mean that there is a termite infestation inside the structure. It just means that colonies are nearby and that the structure is in risk of infestation. If you find hundreds or thousands inside, it is very likely that they have infested the structure.
Recently Dr. Thomas Chouvenc and his colleagues at the University of Florida/ IFAS Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center took the time to carefully monitor dispersal flight events of two of the most damaging termite species in south Florida. The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) and the Asian subterranean termite (Coptotermes gestroi) are formidable foes and are increasingly problematic in our urban environment, destroying wood structures, and damaging valuable trees.
Over a three-year study they found that the two species swarm at the same time, multiple times each year. They are starting to mate and are producing a vigorous hybrid termite. Because of the new hybridization, Dr. Nan-Yao Su, a UF/IFAS entomology professor, estimates that half of south Florida structures will be at risk of subterranean termite infestation by 2040.