WHAT IS A TERMITE SWARM?
The Oxford Dictionary defines the verb form of the word swarm as “ to move somewhere in large numbers”. Now, when it comes to termites, that definition can, and should, bring a shiver of fear to homeowners everywhere in the South since termites are most definitely fond of our mild Georgia weather.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A TERMITE SWARM
A termite swarm occurs when reproductive termites (alates) known as swarmers emerge from the nest in groups to mate. These reproductives have two sets of flat wings that stay pressed against the abdomen when not in use, but when spring temperatures climb to around 70 degrees, they emerge in “swarms” to mate. The females have pheromones that lure the males to their location in order to mate. Interestingly, once they choose their mates, they break their wings off to show the termite world that they are now a couple. A new location is chosen for the nest and the new queen and king begin their colony. And by the way, queens have been known to live for more than 30 years!! That is a lot of termite babies.
TEMPERATURES AND SWARM
As mentioned above, temperature plays a big part at the beginning of swarm season for termites. Subterranean termites are the most commonly seen termite in Georgia and live in protected tunnels, only emerging to mate and forage for food. The subterranean will adjust their activities depending on the weather. If it is too hot or too cold, they will migrate deeper into the soil and wait for a more inviting temperature shift to emerge. A swarm is a sudden emergence of the winged, or alate, termites that occurs when the temperatures warm in the spring. This emergence can be in large numbers or in smaller groups. Let’s look at why.
As Nic Alday, one of our Canton Termite experts noted, “Consistent temperatures bring consistent swarms, and sporadic temperatures bring sporadic swarms”.
In a spring with constant temperature shifts, such as we have seen this year, the swarmers are not seen in large groups, but they are nevertheless swarming and reproducing. When days are warm and hospitable, the termites swarm, mate, and begin the life cycle process of forming new colonies. On chilly days, the termites retreat to the soil to wait it out.
DOES A COOLER SPRING MEAN FEWER TERMITES?
No, a cooler spring does not mean there are fewer termites; it means we are not seeing the termite activity as easily. Here’s the thing: swarms are only a small indication above ground of what is happening below ground. You see, the termite we are most familiar with in Georgia is the Subterranean termite.
WHAT IS A SUBTERRANEAN TERMITE?
The Subterranean termite is classified as a social insect, meaning they live together in a colony and are separated into a caste system with specific jobs for each group such as workers, soldiers, and reproductives. A termite colony can contain thousands to millions of termites, although most of the time they are smaller and simply increase the number of colonies to expand their numbers.The termite is a soft-bodied and rather delicate insect, and as such highly susceptible to the drying effects of the sun and wind. This is why they stay protected underground or create tunnels to travel to a food source. The winged swarmers have a difficult job flying out into the elements to mate and most do not survive the journey to begin a new colony. Even though we naturally see them as a tremendously dangerous pest, termites have a necessary job to perform in nature as they break down cellulose in the form of fallen or dead trees. But the problem comes when their natural habitat becomes home to buildings and roads. Survival means the termites find whatever food source is nearby, and in suburban America that is often our homes.
HOW DO TERMITES GET INTO MY HOME?
Termites travel through the soil by excavating tunnels. Food sources are located within their habitat, and if that food source happens to be your home’s wooden components, then the termites create mud tubes up to their food source. These tubes protect them from the drying effects of the air plus any predators such as ants. For the most part, termites eat anything made of cellulose including dead wood and wood products; however, in the continual search for food, termites will tunnel through noncellulose materials like foam insulation and sheetrock. Survival is a strong instinct. Because their work is mostly excavating inside the wood itself, most homeowners have no idea the invasion has begun unless swarmers or mud tubes are visible and noticed. As the termites excavate, they consume, leaving a honeycomb-like pattern in the wood and leaving little more than a very thin exterior. It looks solid, but many a homeowner has been unhappily surprised by the reality of hollowed-out, damaged wood inside a home.
WHAT DO TERMITES NEED FOR SURVIVAL?
Termites need food, moisture, and warmth for survival. As discussed, termites eat wood (cellulose). They prefer softer woods but are quite adaptable for survival. Wood-destroying fungus is often found in the same space as termites so some suggest the termites enjoy wood that has been attacked by particular fungi. Moisture is the absolute most important factor for termite activity, and the suburban landscape’s nicely irrigated areas make a perfect environment for termites. Also, it is vital that homeowners understand the danger of water leaks inviting termite activity. Stopped-up gutters and leaky air conditioning units and pipes are prime examples of potential problem areas. Since termite skin is thin, they dry out quickly and need ample moisture to survive and thrive. Wood and soil seem to act as a sponge, helping the termite to retain moisture. Above the ground, termites create mud tubes to ensure safe transport to their food source and back to the colony. They are made with dirt, wood debris, and termite saliva! Maybe gross but it’s also pretty cool. As mentioned earlier, temperature changes cause the termites to either remain hidden in the safety of their warm subterranean nesting sites or allow them to travel to food and to mate in the spring season. If they are nesting in a warm environment, their activity is less hidden and they remain active more of the year.
WHY DO SUBTERRANEAN TERMITES POSE A RISK TO HOMEOWNERS?
Your home is your biggest investment and protecting that investment is vital for homeowners. With the exception of Alaska, Subterranean termites can be found in every state in the United States. Georgia residents are estimated to spend between $200 and $300 million every year in order to treat termite infestations and repair the damage done by the relentless efforts of termites. As a nation, the treatment and prevention of termites is approximated at $2 billion every year. To be so tiny, they sure cause a lot of trouble!
WHAT CAN I DO TO PROTECT MY HOME FROM TERMITES?
As a homeowner, it is important to maintain your home by repairing any leaks or damage. Doing careful inspections can also help you stay on top of problems before they begin or get worse. However, it is difficult for the average homeowner to know where to look and what to look for when it comes to termites. I’ve said it before, but the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is still true. Calling a professional, reliable termite company is the best protection you can offer your home. A knowledgeable company will thoroughly inspect your home to determine if there are any existing termite infestations as well as explain the importance of preventative care of your home. Ongoing inspections offer an important layer of protection that treatment alone cannot offer so it is important to maintain your relationship with your termite professional. Your home is your most valuable asset and worthy of the best protection on the market. Canton Termite offers state-of-the-art, innovative treatments, and friendly, competent staff to make your termite protection the best on the market.
Give us a call today to schedule your free termite inspection and find out why Canton residents have been trusting us for over 30 years with their termite and pest control needs.