Backyard Buddies

Photo: CSIRO


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As the weather warms up in spring and summer, termites commence their social swarming.

In order to create social swarms, the colony emerges from being underground after at least three years. Flying termites are at their reproductive stage and are short lived.

A swarm can be quite a sight, one minute it's clear outside and the next you may think that a part of the sky has greyed as the sheer mass of a swarm can be truly spectacular.

Termites swarm in order to start new colonies. Colonies send off large numbers of winged reproductive termites called 'swarmers.'

A swarm is recognisable by the sudden appearance of hundreds to thousands of these swarmers, usually seen at dusk. This swarm strategy means that there are more termites than predators can cope with, guaranteeing some termites survive.

The swarm often lasts just a few minutes, as swarmers fly a short distance, then fall to the ground and lose their wings. Most swarmers die within a day or so of the swarm.

Termites are great weather metres, sensing changes in air pressure associated with changing weather conditions. A combination of several successive days of above average temperatures followed by light rain triggers swarming. Swarms activity varies geographically occurring most often in spring.

Termites are social insects with different members of the same species having different roles. There are soldiers and workers, queens and kings, each with a special function in the colony.

Winged termites found new colonies - any member of the swarm is a potential king or queen and for these otherwise social workers, it's each termite for itself. The future pairs look for damp, rotting wood so most houses are not at risk. It is rare for pairs to survive, but those that do may live for more than seventeen years.

Termites are important in nutrient recycling, habitat creation, soil formation and quality and swarmers are a great source of food for countless predators. Termites assist our soils in their ability to store water. Termites are great buddies for our country but are not such welcome guests in our backyards.

Termite Prevention:

How to tell a termite from an ant:



Did you know?

Termites have been used to find minerals such as diamonds and gold. And, around the world, lots of people eat termites. Winged termites are apparently very nutritious.

Amazing Beasties

By Ranger Clare Pearce, Community Education Officer and Katherine Region Junior Ranger Coordinator, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the N.T. 

These primitive insects are closely related to cockroaches not ants. They are a very important part of our Australian environment and are great at recycling plant material back into the soil.

Termites are sometimes seen as a pest, but of the perhaps 300 different Australian species of termite, only a few will damage our homes and gardens. Mostly termites go about their business in the bush around us, creating new soil by feeding on grass, wood or rotting organic matter.

Termites are fragile insects. They dry out quickly in the open air and need to protect themselves against the harsh climate. The mounds that termite colonies build protect them from the weather and are different depending on the different species of termite.

Termites live in colonies that are made up of different types or castes of termites, each with a different job to do. Small pale termites with no wings are worker termites and are the most common. Solider termites protect the nest and are equipped with large jaws or strange looking heads that squirt chemicals at invaders.

Sometimes, at the right time of year, there are also winged termites or alates. These are the only termites that are both male and female and able to reproduce, or have babies. When the weather is warm and the air is humid the alates will fly out from the colony to find mates.

Some colonies will build strange skinny towers called flight towers. These are used by the alates as a launching pad and colonies build them if weather conditions are nearing perfect for termite travel.

Flights of alates will normally happen all at the same time. Most of these will die, becoming food for hungry predators or drying out if they spend too long out in the open; some however are able to mate. These then lose their wings and go on to construct new colonies.

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Photo: OEH