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The vast majority of ant and termite species dwell in colonies that produce winged reproductive specimens that swarm from their nesting sites each year during the spring, summer and fall months. Some termite species can be found swarming during the winter months, and spotting termite swarms during the winter is not uncommon in southern states where temperatures rarely drop below freezing. Ants are not active outdoors during the winter, making ant swarms a rare occurrence during this time of year. Numerous ant species are often spotted in the northeast during the spring and summer months, but termite swarms are not spotted as frequently in the region since the eastern subterranean termite is the only termite species that inhabits northern New England. While nearly all ants swarm, some ant species are spotted swarming more often than others. The ant species that frequently spotted swarming in the northeast include Carpenter ants, black ants and European fire ants.

Reproductive ants and termites that swarm are both known as “alates,” and ant swarms are frequently mistaken for termite swarms and vice versa. Swarms of carpenter ants and termites are mistaken for one another often by residents in the northeast, as both eastern subterranean termites and black carpenter ants swarm during the spring and early summer in the region. Sometimes, termite and ant swarms occur indoors, and when this occurs, an ant or termite colony has likely established an indoor nest, or a nest located close to a structure. If eastern subterranean termite alates are found swarming indoors, then an inspection should be carried out by a pest control professional immediately. Indoor ant swarms are less of a concern, unless the ants are carpenter ants, in which case, an active nest has likely been established in an obscured area of a home, such as in wall voids or beneath floorboards, or worse, within structural wood. Although termite and ants are both relatively small insects that look similar, there are several clear physical differences between termite and ant alates. For example, unlike ant alates, termite alates do not have a pinched midsection that separates their body into two segments; instead, a termite alate’s body is straight-sided. Both termite and ant alates possess two pairs of wings, but a termite’s wings are all equal in size, while one set of ant wings is shorter than the other set. Also, the antennae of ant alates bend at a 90 degree angle, while a termite alate’s antennae are slightly curved.

Have you ever witnessed an indoor termite or ant swarm?