Swarms Of Winged Insects Descend On Sunset

A Pacific dampwood termite. | Photo: Judy Gallagher/Flickr
By Nathan Falstreau - Published on October 18, 2017.

Many Sunset residents have been vexed in recent days by a barrage of large, winged insects flying about the neighborhood and into homes.

One neighbor wrote that after being away from home for a few weeks, they returned to several of the "lil' buggers" flying around inside their house and a larger swarm in their yard.

Christopher Grinter, an entomologist with the California Academy of Sciences, told Hoodline via email that the insects are most likely Pacific dampwood termite, "the biggest of our termite species." 

An Outer Sunset backyard. | Photo: Michael Fraley/Flickr

Pacific dampwood termites can be found throughout the West Coast, but mostly prefer the cooler coastal weather found in the Bay Area. The insects are particularly visible from August to October when they swarm, usually right before sunset. 

"What we’re seeing [in the Sunset] is the reproductive males and females," Grinter said. "They drop their wings as soon as they land so they can find mates and form new colonies."

According to the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM), termites live and work in colonies. As a result, there's a division of labor between sterile insects who work on behalf of reproductives. Some colonies contain two generations, so offspring can take care of their parents. 

Felled log consumed by termites. | Photo: Kyle Brazil/Flickr

If swarming termites enter a home, "it’s not too much of a concern," Grinter said. "Typically, individuals from the same colony don’t inter-breed, so if you have a house full of them, that only indicates you have a nearby colony, not that they would be mating and setting up shop in your home."

Despite the damage they can do to homes, termites are an important aspect of our local ecosystem. "Termites commonly feed on felled trees and stumps, grasses, bushes, or other pieces of dead or decaying wood," according to UC IPM.

As a result, the bugs break down debris, provide an "energy-rich" food source and help return nutrients to soil.

But if someone encounters a large amount of swarming termites in their home, "it never hurts to call in pest control for a careful inspection for property damage," Grinter said. 

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