In 2016, termite swarms were so bad that they actually showed up on weather stations’ radars and we expect to see more of the same in 2017. Why so many termites? Many blame a number of things, including the insects’ ability to mate with termites outside of their comfort zones. For example, termites native to America are now mating with their foreign cohorts, creating hybrids. These foreign species of termites and their hybrid offspring are also rewriting the rules when it comes to the insects’ behaviors. Many may mate and feed more often, thus creating colonies of epic proportions. However, before that can happen, the conditions have to be right for a termite swarm.
Gearing Up for Iowa Termite Swarms
What are those conditions? For one, the soil temperatures and relative humidity have to increase to the point where the termites are able to thrive. Although there are minor deviations, scientists largely agree that most species need 70 degree Fahrenheit temps and 70% RH. When do those conditions occur most often in Iowa? Let’s look at what the Iowa State University Extension office has to say:
They’ve been monitoring those variables for years. As such, we can look at the historical records and determine with some ease when Iowa termite swarms are most likely to occur. Our Des Moines termite swarm experts report that based on their experience and the environmental variables, we can most assuredly expect insect activity to be present as early as May 2017. And oftentimes all that’s needed to kick it off during the warmer months is a good rain.
Watch Out for the Rain
Why rain? It’s simple really. Showers boost the relative humidity in the air and underground. Those changes help Iowa termites know that it’s time to mate. Plus, the rain provides drinking water as well as softens the soil. It stands to reason that the softer the soil, the easier it is for the winged termites (i.e. alates) to tunnel their way to the surface and back underground again. With that said, once all of the potential breeders have reached the surface the termite swarm can begin.
Let the Coupling Begin
As they are gathering, the hopeful termites release chemical signals with the aid of their tergal and sterna glands. They are part of the insect’s exocrine system, which generally doesn’t reach maturity until the termites are several months old. Afterward, the winged group will typically take flight and travel up to 900 feet from its original nest to mate. Given that the average distance between Des Moines homes is well within that range, it is easy to see how neighbors may end up sharing more than an occasional cup of sugar. Once the exhausted termites finish mating, the next phase of their lives can begin.
House Shopping Comes Next
Without their wings, the couple is capable of squeezing into very small spaces. They’ll use that ability to their advantage as they look for a suitable nesting site. Most often, they’ll select an underground site within their flight path that has all of the right characteristics. On the list are locations that offer moisture, food and protection from their natural predators. So they may end up tunneling in the areas around Iowan’s tree stumps, wood piles or homes.
Destructive Colonies Begin Anew
After the first chamber is built, the queen will likely prepare to lay her eggs. She will continue to produce offspring often, sometimes generating as many as 50,000 new termites in her lifetime. As they mature, the termite swarms will begin again. So Iowans that notice these events or their aftermath should contact the team at Miller Pest & Termite for a complimentary inspection.