Attack of the swarming termites!

Last week, our office got a call from an Angelina County resident who saw an alarmingly sized cloud of flying insects emerging from an old stump. "It almost looked like some rising smoke, but it was all made up of bugs," they said.

What they saw were termites - and those termites were swarming. They're a nuisance for anyone looking to buy property in Texas, but it's entirely possible to deal with them before they cause damage.

"Texas homeowners may have to deal with termite swarms this May."

Adult reproductive termites are dark brown, nearly black-colored insects, about 3/8 inches long. Sometimes referred to as "swarmers," the job of these termites is to mate and start new colonies. Swarmers may or may not have wings, as these are often - but not always - shed shortly after their first flight. 

Swarming termites can be confused with ants but can be distinguished by two simple characters. Termites lack the narrow, "pinched" waist (or thorax, as entomologists will call it) of ants. A termite's body profile is much like that of a grain of rice. Also, termite wings are equal in length, compared to ants that have distinctly longer front wings.

In an infested home, it is not uncommon to find leftover wings inside on windowsills. Look carefully at them to see if you can see any difference in size. If they are all similarly shaped, those are termite wings.

Although termite swarmers can occasionally enter homes through open doors or windows, finding any of them indoors is often a reliable sign of infestation. The swarms can be seen throughout the year, but are most commonly observed in Texas between the months of February and May. In other words: If you haven't seen them yet, you still might before May 31 comes and goes.

Attack of the swarming Texas termites!Keep an eye out for termites this month.

But what about the termites you find outside in your mulch, or in an old stump? They abound in the soil wherever wood is found, throughout large portions of the east Texas land for sale. Most yards, especially those in older, more established neighborhoods, support termites. While the insects are more abundant in some locations than others, chances are good that any yard in Angelina County has termites - including yours. Finding them in a fence or woodpile, or in landscape timbers, does not necessarily mean that your home needs to be treated, but it should alert you to the risk of their presence.

Should you discover termites in any significant number, a few simple steps can help reduce your risk of an infestation. First, familiarize yourself with what they look like, so that if you notice swarms of any unusual indoor insects, you'll know if your house should be inspected.

Second, examine the foundation of your home to see whether any mud shelter tubes are present. Termites use these hollow soil tunnels extending from the ground outside, providing passageways for termites to traverse between their underground nest and their food supply - i.e., your home. If you do find any suspicious mud structures, leave at least part of the material in place for a pest control professional with expertise in termites to examine.

Finally, keep any soil and debris such as stacked wood away from the foundation of your home. This reduces the chance of termite entry and makes it easier to inspect your home for signs of the pests.

If you suspect termites, have a professional inspect your home. They use specialized equipment and chemicals to effectively and safely exterminate the pests. Do-it-yourself termite control chemicals can be found in home improvement and gardening stores, but speaking personally, I would only use a consumer-grade anti-termite product around low-value structures such as sheds, fence posts, decks and woodpiles. For spot treatments in these limited areas, such products can be as effective as some of the weaker professional-grade chemicals, but you'll be better off leaving this task up to the experts.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. Contact him via email: