What do bees, ants and termites have in common? At some point in the year, they all swarm.
Our honeybee may be the most obvious as the queen gathers up thousands of support bees from the existing hive and heads off to find another location to set up shop. You may see those swarms hanging in trees or somewhere on the home under an eave. Sometimes, they cling to parked cars and trucks before moving along. Bee swarming is much more likely later in the summer, when colony numbers are much higher.
Homeowners have been bringing in or emailing pictures of ants with wings, and last week I got a video. While bees are above ground to start with, ants have to herd those winged individuals up from the colony below ground. Once above ground, the winged ant will climb upward, while the wings are expanding and drying. When ready, they launch themselves into the air to fly away to create a new colony. Soon after, those wings will fall off and down the ants go to start a new underground colony. This is all natural and according to plan. When the plan goes wrong is when they leave the colony in the ground and find themselves in our homes. All the cool, wet weather seems to have made the migration indoors increase. You may have noticed more ants indoors after periods of heavy rain.
Homeowners can find a few dozen appearing overnight or within hours once the migration from the colony to above ground begins. In these situations, the ants expected to end up outside where they belong. Very likely, the colony was under the slab of the home and found their way up next to heating ducts or followed plumbing by accident. In homes with basements, the colony could be just outside and yet find a way inside through cracks and crevices that every home has between the foundation walls and the sill plate covered by that last row of siding. Outside of their natural environment, those winged ants will not last very long and a vacuum cleaner is all that is needed to remove them. Left alone, you will find them dead with discarded wings everywhere.
The most worrisome of the three are termites, of course. Termites, like ants, have colonies in the ground. In nature, they feed on wood. If they find a way into our homes, they feed on the wood that built our homes. They travel back and forth between the colony in the soil and the source of their food. Finding winged termites outdoors or indoors should be a red flag that your home should be inspected.
The difference between winged ants and termites is quite clear. While both have two sets of wings, ants have a pinched waistline, termites do not. Wings on the ant are clear and lightly veined, and originate from the same place on the thorax. Wings on the termite are whitish and gossamer looking, originate from two different spots on the termite body and appear parallel to one another. Only the termite destined for flight is a dark color; those in the colony are quite small with a white, fleshy color.
• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup. The 2019 Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 630-553-5823.