Bug Word-of-the-Day, Friday 5/24
Alate (rhymes with “stay late”) — This word simply means “winged,” but it’s usually applied to a particular type of ant or termite.
Many species of ants and termites have a special way of launching new colonies. Every year, some of the insects in the nest grow wings.
These insects are called alates. There are male and female alates, and all of them are capable of mating.
The alates fly away from the nest when conditions are right. The exact time of year, time of day and weather conditions that are “right” will vary from one species to another.
All of the alates leave at once, meaning that thousands of insects pour from a small area and take to the skies. People sometimes notice this phenomenon. We call it swarming.
During their flight, the alates look for suitable places to set up a new colony. When they find one they land, and promptly lose their wings.
Males and females pair off and mate, then the females lay eggs and raise the larvae to become the first generation of workers for the new colony.
In the case of termites, departing alates can set off alarm bells for people who recognize the insects and realize that there’s a well-established colony in the area.
However, a swarm doesn’t automatically mean nearby buildings are at risk — it depends on the species of termite involved and the location of the colony. (We’ll address this issue more fully in an upcoming “Bug Solutions” post, right here in this blog.)
Now, in late May, Formosan termite alates are swarming in the Southeast, prompting news stories like this one.
The Formosan termite is one of the most serious wood-destroying organisms in the Southeast, so if you see any termite swarm near your home right now it’s a good idea to consult a pest management professional. By the way, those are Formosan termite alates in the photo above.
You can read more about the Formosan termite in this document from the UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Source, or EDIS.
Finally, here’s a joke: A termite flies into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender says “that’ll be three dollars.” The termite says he only has two dollars. The bartender replies, “you’re an alate, and a dollar short.”