It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, No…It’s Ant Swarmers!
We are all familiar with the sight of an army of ants marching along the ground to join your picnic, but what about the aerial acrobatics of flying ants?
The sight of winged insects usually brings fear to the most stalwart of homeowners’ hearts. And why not? After all, ants are not the only insect that takes flight for a season. In fact, termites are probably the best-known swarmers. So, it’s no wonder we jump to all kinds of worry-induced conclusions when we spot a sudden cloud of unknown insects. Let’s explore what ant swarmers are and how to know the difference between termites and ants during a swarm season.
Swarmer ants are mature male and female ants who are primarily responsible for growing and spreading the colony. When weather conditions are just right, typically in late spring and early summer, they fly off in great numbers (swarms) to reproduce. One of the main reasons they swarm is simply to protect themselves from predators by being in a large grouping. This also ensures a measure of success for the colony since their chance of survival is extremely small due to predators such as birds and dragonflies or simply dehydration and starvation. The ant is a very social insect and the colony works as a unit to ensure survival above all individual needs. Large numbers of swarms go out, and a small number will be successful and start new colonies. This is the way of the ant.
The males die after mating, and the females go find a new nesting site. The female then breaks off her wings and gets to work laying eggs for the new colony. Since all species of ants are able to swarm, the nesting site preferences and time of swarm are species based. In the Canton, Georgia, area we often see fire ants, carpenter ants, and Argentine as examples. We often see one variety or another starting in spring and extending throughout the summer.
Carpenter ants prefer decayed wood as a nesting site so woodpiles close to the house can be a draw for the new colony to set up housekeeping and potentially find your home as the next food, water, or nesting site. In this case, noticing the swarm could save you time and money if you can begin dealing with an infestation early.
Swarmer ants are a somewhat disconcerting sight but are harmless. Swarming is a temporary situation and not something that should necessarily panic homeowners. They could be a bit of a nuisance if they find their way into your home, and their presence could indicate a nest nearby. A pest control specialist can help set your mind and arrange for any necessary treatments.
Now for the next question: how do you know if a swarm is ants or the dreaded termite?
First of all, the time of year is a telling sign of identification. Early spring is more likely to be subterranean termites, while late spring into summer is likely to be ants.
Another important difference is that termites have wings that actually fall off when they land so if you find lots of wings on your door and window frames, you might have a termite problem where ants tend to retain their wings until they begin to produce a new colony. Lastly is the appearance of the insect. A termite has two sets of wings roughly the same size that is almost twice the length of its body. It also has straight antennae and no waist. An ant has two sets of wings with one being smaller than the other, one set navigates while the other helps with lift and thrust, plus the antennae are bent. Most of us aren’t going to get that close, so a pest professional can help you correctly identify your flying visitors.
How worried should I be?
If you have flying ants, it is not typically a reason to panic. Ants are swarming to mate and expand their colonies. The problem could be if their new colony is your home. So, if the swarmers are inside your home, you need to figure out if a few stragglers got lost or if they are actually setting up a new nest in the comfort of your home. Carpenter ants live in the wood of your home and can create significant problems. Other species of ants are typically just pests in the annoying sense of the word but worth getting under control before your visitors get firmly established in the walls and voids of your home. Termites on the other hand are usually a bigger threat to your home. They not only nest in the wood, they eat it! This increases the possibility of structural damage and expensive repairs for homeowners. And as a side note, when the swarming stops, the work begins…so out of sight should not mean out of mind when it comes to termites.
What Can I Do?
First of all, identify the insect. We often receive photos of insects to help us guide our customers in the correct response. If you already have regular pest control service, it is best to be on hand to show your technician areas of concern or specimens you have saved for identification. Continued, regular pest control is the best way to catch problems before they get out of hand. Second, homeowners should be careful to maintain their homes by checking for any water leaks, keeping up with repairs, and sealing any entry points such as gaps in doors and windows, and vents.
As always, Canton Termite and Pest Control is happy to help you identify any pest problems and keep your home pest free! Call our office at 770-479-1598 to set up your free estimate and protect your home from invading, unwanted guests of the insect kind!