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The native North American termite species, Reticulitermes flavipes, or the “eastern subterranean termite,” as it is more commonly known, is the most economically significant, widespread and common termite pest in the United States. This species’ habitat distribution ranges from Florida to southern Maine, and even up into southern Canada. These termites have been found infesting homes as far west as Colorado, and not long ago, specimens were recovered from Oregon. Determining the regional abundance of eastern subterranean termites is next to impossible due to their well-concealed habitat located within the ground soil where they cannot be seen by humans. However, the Gulf Coast states see the highest rate of eastern subterranean termite infestations, followed by the eastern coastal states.

While the eastern subterranean termite is the only termite pest found in Massachusetts, homes in the state face a “moderate to heavy” probability of becoming infested by these destructive insect pests. Since homes in the northeast are at a relatively high risk of becoming infested with subterranean termites, it is important for homeowners in Massachusetts to have their property inspected for subterranean termite infestations and damage once per year. Following an inspection, homeowners should meet with a pest management professional to decide which methods are most suitable for protecting their home from subterranean termite attacks.

From March until the end of May in Massachusetts, reproductive alates emerge from existing eastern subterranean termite colonies in order to find a mate and start a new colony as queen and king. These daytime swarms occur following a bout of rainfall during the first warm days of spring. Swarms do not cover long distances, and they are frequently spotted in urban and suburban areas. If a swarm emerges within a home, then it is safe to assume that subterranean termites have been infesting the structure for 6 or 7 years. This is because the production and emergence of alates can only occur in colonies that have matured for a period lasting 6 to 7 years.

If a swarm emerges near a home, then a mature colony containing anywhere between 200,000 to 10 million individual subterranean termites must be located below the ground nearby. Homeowners who witness a swarm near their house should carefully search their property for thin and crooked “swarming tubes” that protrude 4 to 8 inches from the ground.  Worker subterranean termites build swarming tubes out of mud, saliva and excrement in order to provide swarming alates with an exit from the underground colony. Swarming tubes are commonly found within crawl spaces near furnaces.

Have you ever spotted a termite swarm in your neighborhood?