Today is one of the first heavy swarm days of the season and with it comes the calls of panicked homeowners and businesses. Most calls come in from 11:00 am to about 1:00 from the people that are home during the subterranean termite exodus. What they report is thousands of flying insects swarming in their living rooms, garage, dining or bathrooms. Cans of Raid are taken out of their wintery slumber and the air is filled with the country scent of death as the the battle reaches epic proportions. In the end there lies a pile of dead and convulsing alates and the red drapes now drip pink with signs of a hard fought war.
But after 5:00 the second wave of calls come in, these are quite different then the early afternoon conversations. These are the folks who weren’t home during the mating flight and have no idea of the plume of insects that filled the air while they were hard at work. Instead, curiosity drives them to call and they are usually surprised to find an extermination company answering the phone this late. They have but one question;
What are these wings on my windowsill?
“There are no bodies (or very few) present”, they exclaim, “no open windows or doors, no signs whatsoever to explain how these tiny white like, almost translucent wings amassed but there they are.” Their curiosity is short lived as the smart technician who stays late in the office on these days explains just what has occurred.”Those wings belonged to termites” he says with an excited voice, “I’ll be right over to explain all about it and help you out.”
In nature different creatures have a variety of ways in which to ensure their species preservation. Salmon spend all of their energy swimming back upstream to lay eggs in the streams that gave them birth. Bees split the nest by ‘budding‘ and one colony becomes two. For termites to propagate their specie they send out thousands of swarmers every year. One would think with so many that hundreds of new colonies would be formed with ease but the truth is that only a small fraction actually pair up, mate and make it through the many dangers and setbacks in able to produce their own swarm a few years later.
In answer to the question of the wings and just why they are on your windowsill it is this. Only the reproductive caste in a termite colony has wings and they are used to exit the subterranean cavity that they have been living in. From complete darkness these swarmers are herded out of some of the tiniest holes where they take flight.These alates also are equipped with something else the rest of the colony does not have and that is eyes. Once out the termites take flight and head toward the first light they see. The wings are fragile and the termites are poor fliers so once a direction is taken it is difficult to turn around. Once they land the wings are no longer needed so often times they will arch their backs and the wings will break off. From there the males hone in on the pheromones of a female, pair up and scurry quickly to hidden dark and secluded spots to begin the termite life cycle anew.
So the why of your window sill is that this was more than likely the first light from the swarm point or exit hole. Even if this point was some distance away they would by nature be attracted to it. It should be noted that termites often erect swarm castles in walls where the morning sun heats them up. Termites are temperature sensitive and just like if you closed your eyes you could still feel the heat from the sun. Building in these areas increases the chances of a successful swarm and it’s also easier to gauge the temperature and humidity so they can pick just the right day to swarm. You may find a few swarmer termites in another room or down the hall but remember they are poor fliers so that may not indicate a widespread infestation. There have been many jobs I’ve done where I could not find the exit holes while some were very obvious. (click here to read more about exit holes)
And the why of just wings is because they were no longer needed. If indeed the wings stay on to the point the newly coupled pair makes it to a secure place they can eat them for food but once off they will never have or need them again. For all the wings you see you would think there would be bodies strewn about as well. As stated the new king and queen have forsaken the light once the swarm is over and now look for places of complete darkness and safety. Many times you can find the termites under the carpet along the baseboards or perhaps in a dark corner behind the TV stand. This doesn’t mean that these termites will be able to start new colonies in these places however. Without soil contact the reign of the newly crowned royalty will more than likely die in just a few short hours from dehydration. It’s just another one of the pitfalls that these swarmers must face but they at least had one ‘moment in the sun’, there on your windowsill.