Most people probably go their entire lives without ever seeing a termite swarm, but that does not mean that spotting a swarm of termites is necessarily rare. Many people have witnessed swarming termites, but were not aware of what they were witnessing. In most situations like this, people who witness termite swarms simply dismiss the swarm as a collection of flying ants or tiny gnats. Termite swarming behavior is necessary in order for termites to continue their existence on this planet, so witnessing swarming termites is like witnessing termites struggling to pass on their genes. Most people know that termites mate when they swarm, but when this “mating” actually happens is a bit of a mystery to your typical laymen. When it comes to termite swarms, many people would like to know how males and females pick their mates out of such a flurry of numerous candidates. Also, it is hard for people to imagine termites mating during a swarm, so when exactly does the mating occur? In the air? On the ground? Luckily, these questions are relatively simple to answer.
Generally speaking, termite swarms occur during March, April and May, but swarming season differs depending on the termite species being considered. For example, subterranean, drywood and dampwood termites don’t swarm at the exact same times of year. Some termites swarm in the late summer, but you will never find a termite swarm in the winter. Although swarming and mating behavior are commonly and rightfully associated with each other, winged termites (alates) do not fly and mate simultaneously. First, termites must land on the ground after finding a location to start a new colony. Both the males and females shed their wings, and then the males become attracted to particular females based on pheromone signalling. After the male and female meet, they dig into the soil, or wood depending on the species, until they have carved out a small chamber. This chamber is referred to as the “nuptial chamber” and both mating and egg-grooming acts occur within this chamber.
Have you ever spotted a termite swarm indoors? Or have you ever spotted what you thought was an ant swarm only to later learn that you had witnessed a termite swarm?