March 2016
Homeplace & Community

Termites! Are you protected?

In spring, I often receive calls from homeowners about swarming termites. If folks live in wooded areas, this is usually a regular occurrence. If you live near a wooded area, you need to understand that termites are an important part of the natural cycle of turning wood into organic matter that continues to decompose and replenish the soil with nutrients. We want this process to occur in the woods, but we don’t want it to move to our homes. If your house is properly protected, you should not worry about termites in other areas.

As spring arrives, trees bud, plants bloom and we are outdoors more. While you are outdoors, keep your eyes open for swarming termites because that is their favorite time to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Termite swarms are composed of winged male and female termites that fly from their home colonies to mate, disperse and start colonies of their own. Swarming functions to mix the termite gene pool and spread the species. Swarming also helps termites find new sources of wood to attack. Dead tree stumps, downed trees and branches, moist wooden fences, mulch around houses and, of most concern, wood in your home are all favored by termites.

Most native subterranean termites swarm during the day, usually on sunny, calm mornings one or two days after a rain. These native termites are dark bodied and have gray wings.

Formosan subterranean termites swarm in the evening and early night, and will fly to lights. Formosan termites are yellowish colored and have tan wings with many tiny hairs. They are often found in window sills and swimming pools the day after a swarm.

In addition to feeding on the wood in our homes, Formosan termites have attacked more than 50 species of living plants, including citrus, pecan, wild cherry, cherry laurel, sweet gum, cedar, willow, wax myrtle, Chinese elm, pines, oaks and maples. They can construct galleries to the upper stories of buildings to feed on the wood. Fortunately, they are not widespread in our area, but are of more concern in the southern part of the state.

The process called swarming means that the parent colony is mature and healthy enough to reproduce. Immediately prior to swarming, workers and soldiers usually make tunnels upward to a high location: above windows of homes or up the trunk of a tree. The colonies infesting trees construct a launch pad, and colonies infesting homes usually chew tiny exit holes through sheetrock walls. Care should be taken to thoroughly inspect homes where swarms have been reported, particularly if the termites swarm within the home.

Spring is the best time for termite inspection. In addition to watching out for swarming, look for signs of mud tunnels on the walls, foundations and pillars of homes. It is highly recommended that your home be protected from termites by a professional pest control company. The bait systems commonly used today are both safe and effective, but do require regular monitoring.

Visit Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s website,, and search for our publications on termites. These publications have lots of useful information and pictures to help you distinguish swarming termites from swarming ants.

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.