Flying Termites Take a Dangerous Journey to a New Life

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After the first big rain, western subterranean termites swarm by the thousands. Hungry ants, spiders and birds pick them off as they emerge from the soil. The survivors fly off to find mates, and quickly drop their delicate wings to start new underground colonies. If you’re really unlucky, they’ll build tubes of mud and saliva from their nest to yours.

TRANSCRIPT

Once a year, on a warm fall day, these winged creatures emerge by the thousands. Western subterranean termites.

They follow the first rain after the dry California summer, pushing through the softened soil.

And there’s no stopping them. They crawl through cracks in the road and holes in tree stumps.

They’re envoys from an underground world. The colonies send them up, these swarming termites called alates. With wings that last just hours, they’ll flutter away, find a mate, and start colonies of their own.

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It’s a crucial operation for the survival of the species. So, soldier termites stand guard over the crowd. Soldiers have huge heads, with menacing mandibles to defend against predators.

In the everyday life of a colony, soldiers watch over the workers, these milky-white nestmates that rear the young.

Because they’re both blind, this soldier vibrates its head to warn the workers away from danger, like this exposed spot where the bark has peeled away. Out in the open, they could be picked off. So, they retreat to safety.

Danger is at its highest on that momentous day when the alates come out and swarm.

Ants attack them as they emerge and the termite soldiers are quickly overwhelmed. The ants cart the alates off, bit by bit, to feed their hungry colony.

Spiders also make off with a few. Everyone wants a piece of them.

The survivors fly a short distance, sometimes just a few feet. Alates can see, which helps them find mates from nearby colonies, where the same exodus is underway.

They shed their wings and the male follows the female’s scent pretty closely. Soon, they’ll dig into the earth and start their own colony, crowning themselves king and queen. These two alone will make thousands of termites.

They all groom each other to get rid of anything that could make the colony sick.

And the workers forage for the termites’ only food – the cellulose that helps give wood its structure.

Termites eat decaying trees and break them down. In that way, they’re incredibly useful.

But they become our enemy when they go for the wood inside our homes. They build tubes out of saliva and soil to connect their nest to yours. The insects dry out easily and need these covered shelter tubes to stay moist. Once they’re in, they chow down along the grain of the wood.


Sometimes, you can see their most recent lumber meal inside their translucent bellies.

Then they pass on some nutritious liquids to the young’uns, yep, through their backside. This feeding style is called anal trophallaxis. Bon appétit!

But hey, you don’t have to invite them for dinner. Just call pest control! And if you see one of these, you want to do this ... to drive those tenacious termites back outside, where they really belong.

OK, Deep Peeps, what’s colorful and cute, but still a little creepy? You guessed it: ladybugs. They spend most of their lives alone, munching on aphids. But every winter they gather by the thousands in a big ol’ cuddle puddle. Thanks for watching!