The eastern subterranean termite, (R. flavipes) belongs to the Reticulitermes genus of termite. This genus also includes other termite species that are well distributed throughout North America. These species include R. hesperus, R. virginicus, R. tibialis and R. hageni, but the eastern subterranean termite is the most widely distributed Reticulitermes species within the United States. This species’ geographical distribution in the US extends from the northeast US up into Ontario and well into the midwest where it can be found as far west as Utah. Reticulitermes species are of the subterranean variety of termite as opposed to either the drywood or dampwood varieties, meaning that Reticulitermes species dwell and forage beneath the soil’s surface. Considering their subterranean habitat, determining the distribution boundaries of Reticulitermes species is not easy.

Although the eastern subterranean termite is a cryptic species that cannot be tracked easily, their annual swarms indicate where existing colonies are located, as winged termites (alates) are reproductive specimens that emerge from active colonies in order to establish new colonies elsewhere. Swarming alates are poor flyers that do not cover much ground, but wind currents can carry swarms over long distances. In fact, wind currents sometimes push swarms of subterranean termite alates onto the roofs of houses and buildings where they can establish infestations.

Contrary to popular belief, Reticulitermes species do not need to maintain periodic contact with soil in order to survive, but they often maintain contact with soil since it is the most readily available source of essential moisture. Infestations see subterranean termite species traveling between ground soil and a structural wood source through mud tubes that the termites construct, but if eastern subterranean termites, and other Reticulitermes species, locate an indoor wood source that is moist enough to support a colony, then the insects can maintain an indefinite presence within a structure. For example, if an attic or a building’s roof contains water from a leaking pipe or puddles from frequent rainfall, a colony can survive and reproduce within the area without access to soil. This is why, on rare occasions, eastern subterranean termite swarms emerge from the top floors of high rise buildings or from the roofs of houses.

Have you ever witnessed a termite swarm emerge from a structure?