Alate Season is Coming
Posted on February 20, 2014 by Mal in Consumer Information
Once a year, termites do a mating flight to start new nests. In South-East Queenland and greater Brisbane, this usually happens in November or December on a muggy night when its suitably humid (often after or before rain). A little like coral spawning on the Great Barrier Reef; when all the conditions are perfect, all the nests go at once.
The queen will lay a special royal brood, carefully tended by the workers. As temperatures rise approaching summer, the potential future kings and queens (called alates) begin to mature. They are much larger than the workers and soldiers, and are easily distinguished by their developing or fully fledged set of wings and the presence of eyes (only reproductive termites have complex eyes). Break open a nest too early and the developed alates will try to fly, driven by instinct. Nearby workers will sometimes pin these overly keen flyers, attempting to prevent them from leaving prematurely.
Leaving a window open during this time of year can lead to some unwelcome visitors, mosquitos aside. The alates are attracted to flourescent lights and you may end up with a lounge room full of them (as i did one year). Dont worry, they cant just get started eating your house. They need a very specific set of circumstances and environment to get going (soil like medium, moisture, food source).
The survival rate in these flights is exceedingly low. Its a real bonanza for the native wildlife; with lizards, spiders and other predators getting more than their fill. Like all termites alates are susceptible to desication although these fellas can last a day or two, much longer than a worker, soldier or developed queen. It varies from species to species but in most cases the chances of a sucsessful mating flight are millions to one.
A few will get lucky and found the next generation. To compensate for the poor odds, termites make up for it with huge numbers of alates. After a flight you may see dead alates on the windscreen of your car, in cobwebs around your house or all over the pool (if you are lucky enough to have one).
Alates are weak flyers. If you are seeing large numbers of them, there is probably a nest not far away. Go out with a torch and see if you can find where they are coming from, its a rare chance to identify a nest for sure. Trees that house colonies will often have wounds (called flight cuts) after such an event, this may also be a giveaway. Remember, suspect trees may have been significantly weakened from the inside out.
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