Termites are considered to be constant pests for homeowners, as they can cause severe damage to homes and structures. However, many homeowners are unaware of how often termites actually come out or when they are most active. Understanding the habits and behaviors of termites can help homeowners be more prepared to deal with potential termite infestations.
Why Do Termites Come Out?
Termites come out of their nests or colonies for a few main reasons:
- To forage for food – Cellulose materials like wood are the main food source for termites. Workers will leave the nest to search for food sources to bring back. They create tunnels and mud tubes to travel from food to the nest.
- To swarm – Some species of termites swarm seasonally to mate and establish new colonies. Swarmers are reproductively mature termites with wings. After swarming, they shed their wings and pair off to start a colony.
- Due to disturbance – Vibrations, noise, or other disturbances can cause termites to come out of their hidden channels temporarily.
How Often Do Termites Swarm?
Termite swarming is seasonal and depends on the species:
- Subterranean termites – Swarm spring through early summer, usually on warm days after rainfall. This includes species like the eastern subterranean, western subterranean, and Formosan termites.
- Drywood termites – Swarm in late spring, summer, and fall in warm climates. In cooler areas, swarming occurs on warm days. This includes species like the western drywood termite.
- Dampwood termites – These termites swarm during summer and fall months, typically in mid-afternoon. The swarmers are attracted to lights.
Swarming events can last for several hours to days for a colony. In some species like Formosans, secondary swarms may occur. The colony can produce swarmers over several years until the colony matures.
How Often Do Termites Come Out to Forage?
Worker termites leave the colony regularly to search for food sources. The foraging activity depends on factors like:
- Temperature – Termites prefer warm temperatures and are most active when it’s 70°F to 90°F outside.
- Moisture – High humidity encourages termites to leave the nest to forage. Low moisture levels can slow down activity.
- Season – In spring and summer when conditions are ideal, foraging increases. Activity declines in cold winter months.
- Time of day – Termites often forage at night to avoid desiccation. During the day, they may come out if conditions are favorable (overcast, high humidity).
A mature termite colony may have hundreds of thousands to millions of worker termites. The workers work around the clock, following pheromone trails to food sources. During active seasons, workers frequently travel back and forth from the nest to gather food. Foraging activity may temporarily decline after swarming.
What Are Signs of Termite Activity?
Though termites do much of their work hidden behind walls, baseboards, and underground, there are some signs that may indicate termite activity in or around the home:
- Mud tubes – Shelter tubes made from mud, wood pieces, soil run up foundation walls or along beams.
- Hollow wood – Termites excavate the insides of wood, leaving a thin outer layer.
- Piles of wings – Swarmers will drop their wings, leaving behind small piles.
- Damaged wood – Wood damaged by termite feeding may have a honeycombed or bubbled appearance.
- Discarded wings – After swarming, termites immediately shed their wings.
|Narrow mud tunnels used to travel between nest and food.
|Wood left hollowed out by termite feeding, with thin outer layer left.
|Piles of wings
|After swarming, the wings are discarded in piles.
|Wood damaged by termites may appear bubbled or honeycombed.
|Swarmers immediately shed their wings after landing.
When Are Termites Most Active?
Termites tend to be most active during times that protect them from desiccation and overheating while allowing them to exploit food sources:
- Spring – Warming temperatures, high humidity, and rains bring increased swarming and foraging behavior in spring months.
- Summer – Warm summer months with moderate but not excessive heat are favorable for foraging. Swarming also peaks in summer for certain species.
- Evenings & nights – Many species avoid the heat of day by being active at night, especially in hot climates. Foraging peaks after sundown.
- After rains – Higher soil moisture encourages termites to construct mud tubes and search for food sources.
In spring, rising temperatures, increasing daylight, rains, and high humidity spur termite activity. Termites take advantage of moist conditions to swarm, travel, and feed. Foraging and swarming typically continue increasing through the summer months. When winter arrives, termite activity significantly declines but does not fully cease in warmer regions.
Time of Day
Termites generally avoid the heat of the day by being more active in the evenings, nights, and mornings. Peak foraging often occurs in evenings around 9 pm to midnight. In hot climates, termites may construct shelter tubes to help keep cool and avoid desiccation while traveling during daylight hours.
Termites engage in regular foraging, traveling between nest and food source several times per day during active seasons. Exact foraging frequency depends on the colony size, species, and environmental conditions. Swarming is also periodic, with certain species swarming on warm spring and summer days. Being aware of termite habits and inspecting for signs of activity can help homeowners identify and address infestations promptly.