Every year, we receive dozens of calls regarding the sudden appearance of swarmers within and around customers’ homes. The primary concern of many of our customers is that these swarmers being their first sign of a termite infestation. However, many times swarmers are instead a sign of an ant infestation, which although still a problem is frequently a relief to the homeowner. Determining which species a swarm belongs to can be a fairly simple process as long as a sample is available. There are a few important things to know about collecting a sample for identification. First on the list is that you should be prompt in collecting the sample as many swarms occur for a few short hours and then disappear as though they had never been present in the first place. Samples should not be smashed or crushed as doing so may affect the identification process. We recommend that 2-3 of the insects are gathered as the sample to ensure that identification can be confirmed. Samples should be placed in a clear sealed container or sandwich bag.
Once the sample is gathered, you have a few options in obtaining identification. Taking on identification yourself in this case is certainly possible. There are a few defining characteristics between ant and termite swarmers that are visible to the naked eye, although a magnifying glass never hurt. If you plan to take on the task of identification yourself, there are a few things that you will need to consider in order to differentiate between an ant and a termite. The most defining characteristic between an ant swarmer and a termite swarmer is their “waist line”. Ants have very segmented bodies, meaning you can tell where one body piece ends and the next starts. Termites on the other hand are frequently described as being “rice” shaped. Their abdomen and thorax do not have a defined waist between the two segments. Another characteristic that differs from termites to ants is their wings. Termites have four wings of equal size and length. Ants do in fact have four wings as well, but the front set of wings is longer than the rear set. Finally, the other visible difference in ants and termites is their antennae. Ants’ antennae are bent or elbowed while termites’ antennae are straight. Regardless of which type of infestation you discover, you will likely want to contact a termite or pest control professional to rid your home of the infestation. Identification can however save time as many pest control companies do not treat homes for termites and having them visit your home for a suspected ant problem that turns out to be termites will only result in delayed treatment of your home.
We do recommend that regardless of a homeowner’s ability to identify the swarmers that they retain the sample for a professional to take a look at as well. There are a few options available when it comes to professional assistance in identifying a pest. Contacting a local pest control company for an inspection is often the first choice of many homeowners. As an alternative, Mug-A-Bug has the availability to identify samples brought into our office. This service is available during regular business hours. In the event that we are unable to identify the sample by simply examining it, we may request that you leave the sample and contact information for further identification procedures. A third, more time consuming option to pest identification is to mail the sample to the entomology department at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. We suggest contacting them prior to sending the sample to determine any information that will need to be included and to ensure that the sample is shipped based on their recommendations.