What Are Termite Alates?
Termites are born with distinct roles for the various castes within the colony in order to ensure a colony’s survival and success. There are three castes, or levels, of termite society: workers, soldiers and alates.
An Alate is a Winged Termite Swarmer
Termites with wings (also called swarmers or alates) are reproductives that leave the nest to start new colonies. Swarmers are not immediately produced in a colony; it can take up to four years for a colony to begin developing swarmers. The exact time of year swarmers leave the nest varies based on the species, typically from spring to fall.
What do they look like?
Winged Termite (Alate) Closeup
They are either males or females that are 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch long with pale brown or grey wings, depending on the species of termite. Subterranean termites typically have two prominent veins in their wings, while drywood often have three or more.
Swarming Termite Alates
Alates are only produced when a colony reaches a certain size, maturity, and is able to expand. The alate nymphs are kept near the soil surface and are nourished by worker and soldier termites. When conditions are right, the hundreds – sometimes thousands—of alates from colonies around the area take flight to pair off with each other, allowing the species to remain diverse. This process is known as swarming, and may occur over several days . Once a couple is formed and the two have successfully mated, the female will seek out a new location to start their colony. Alates lose their wings once they have coupled off, and the process of building a colony begins.
When Do Alates Swarm?
How often alates are produced depends on the species and the age and size of the colony. For most, swarming happens once a year. Subterranean termites swarm in the spring months, and drywood termites are most likely to take flight in late summer or early fall. Regardless of species, most alates prefer to swarm on an overcast day following a rain shower when winds are below 6-mph. Occasionally, termites swarm show up indoors. They are attracted to light, so you may find the alates’ shed wings in areas such as windowsills.
Mass of Swarmers on Wood
For many homeowners, seeing a termite swarm might be the first time they notice a termite problem. However, evidence of swarming termites on or near your home is a sign that a colony has been flourishing nearby for quite some time. If you’ve seen alates or have found their abandoned wings, call one of Orkin’s termite control specialists as soon as possible for a free inspection.