For many people, the first sign of an ant problem is when they see flying ants. The scientific word for these ants with wings is alates. These winged ants develop in the colony for only one purpose. Their job is to fly out of the colony, find a mate, and start new colonies. Because they fly out of the colony in a swarm, many people call them swarmers.
The winged ants usually swarm in the spring and summer. The swarms seem to be triggered by the weather. Swarmers from several colonies may fly out of their nest at the same time.
Spring and summer are also the time when termite colonies produce swarmers. When homeowners see insects with wings, they are often confused whether they are ants or termites. There are three parts of the body that are different between winged ants and winged termites – the wings, the “waist”, and the antennae. It may help to use a magnifying glass when making the identification.
Winged ants have un-equal length wings. The front wings are much larger than the back wings. Winged termites have front wings and back wings that are exactly the same. If the insects have shed their wings and crawled away, the cast off wings can be used for identification. (Wings are often shed at windowsills and also in spider webs in basements and crawl spaces.)
Ants have a “pinched waist”. This gives ants three distinct body segments. Termite swarmers have long slender body that seems to be just one segment.
The antennae of ants have a distinct bend or “elbow”. In contrast, termites have antennae that extend straight out from their head. The termite's antennae resemble tiny beads that have been strung on a wire.
If you are still uncertain after examining the swarmers, it might help to call a pest control professional. He or she can help with the identification. If there is a chance that the home has an infestation, he or she can inspect the home at the same time. The inspector can usually discuss treatment options and help you decide on a course of action.