What Insects Drop Their Wings? Key Facts To Know

Although most insects keep their wings for life, both carpenter ants and termites drop their wings after mating.

Carpenter ants and termites are also two types of insects that can cause damage to your home, so if you notice insects dropping wings near your house, act quickly to avoid any long-term damage. 

When we think of winged insects, bees, butterflies, and house flies come to mind.

These creepy-crawlers keep their wings for life, living both in the air and on land, but did you know that some bugs actually only have wings for a short time during their lives?

Carpenter ants and termites are two terrestrial insects that spend most of their lives underground, but a select few of them are born with wings and take to the skies for a small period before dropping their wings and returning to their underground lives.

By Jacy Lucier - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84646998

To shed some light on this insect anomaly, we’ll discuss:

  • Which insect drops their wings
  • What it means when carpenter ants and termites lose their wings
  • Why flying carpenter ants and flying termites suddenly appear
  • How to tell the difference between flying carpenter ants and flying termites

#1- Termites

What Does It Mean When Termites Lose Their Wings?

Flying termites lose their wings for one single reason: swarming. Swarming refers to the event of winged termites leaving the termite nest.

When flying termites swarm, they leave their colony to form a new one, using their temporary wings to find an ideal location. 

Majority of the time, termites all live peacefully in their colony, as long as there is sufficient space and food. When things start to get crowded, though, some of the sexually mature termites will leave the colony to form their own. 

The reproductive age termites, also known as alates are larger than the other termites and are jet black, which is noticeably different from their brown and black counterparts.

Amazingly, the colony seems to sense when it’s time to expand to other places, and once it reaches a certain size, it will begin to produce the reproductive termites.

These are the only termites in the colony, besides the queen, that can reproduce, but they will not do so until their pair and off start their new colony. It’s at that time that they also lose their wings.  

Do Flying Termites Drop Their Wings?

Flying termites do drop their wings, but not until they have found their mate and created their new colony.

A single male and a single female termite join together to form a new colony of termites, dropping their wings after mating. The female of the pair will become the new colony’s queen, reproducing for the rest of her life.

The wings aren’t necessary for a termite queen, who will spend most of her life lying in one spot and reproducing, so her body discards them as soon as she finds a new home. 

Termite queens can live up to 30 years, so although they will only fly for a short period of time before dropping their wings, they will be the heart of their colony for much, much longer. 

Why Do Flying Termites Suddenly Appear?

You can potentially have a termite problem in your home long before you actually see any flying termites. 

Flying termites suddenly appear when the termite colony produces reproductive stage winged termites. There aren’t always winged termites in the colony, they only appear when the alates are born and leave the nest. 

You may notice the termites flying around your home, or just the discarded wings on your windowsill. Either way, these flying insects can be highly problematic. Don’t take their presence lightly. 

#2- Carpenter Ants

Do Carpenter Ants Lose Their Wings?

Not all carpenter ants have wings. However, the swarmer caste of carpenter ants is born with wings that they will eventually drop after mating. 

Normally, only the queen of the ant colony can reproduce, but in the spring or early summer, the colony will produce swarmers, which are the winged type of carpenter ants that can also reproduce.

Similar to termites, the carpenter ants won’t keep their wings permanently. After mating, the female winged ant will become the queen of her own ant colony, and the male will die. 

Why Do Carpenter Ants Lose Their Wings?

Carpenter ants mate during their first flight, also known as the nuptial flight.

This is the only point in their lives that they will need to fly because afterward the male ant will die and the female, who is soon to become a queen, searches for a proper place for a new colony.

Once the queen ant has found the perfect location, she will drop her wings and lay her eggs, subsequently becoming the queen of her very own colony. She will never grow wings again within her lifetime. 

Why Do Flying Carpenter Ants Suddenly Appear?

Carpenter ant colonies will produce winged swarmers during the spring and early summer. Because they are only around during this short period of the year, their appearance in droves can seem sudden. 

Winged carpenter ants aren’t around all year. During their mating period, it can seem that they are extremely prevalent.

Although you may see a large quantity of these winged ants during this time of the year, they won’t be around for long. 

One thing to keep in mind is that carpenter ants can be very damaging to your home, so once they start showing up around your property, it’s a good idea to hire a professional to make sure you don’t have a serious problem which isn’t easily seen.

How Can You Tell The Difference Between Flying Ants and Flying Termites?

Flying ants and flying termites can look similar at first glance, but when you look closely, a few differences become apparent. The most noticeable differences are in the wings, antennae, and boy shape. 

Termites and flying ants both have four wings. Termite wings are homogeneous in size and length, and they are transparent in color. They are also twice as long as their body length. 

The antennae of termites are either completely straight or nearly straight, and they have broad-waisted bodies that don’t change width much, making them the same size throughout all of their bodies. 

On the other hand, the front portion of the flying carpenter ants’ wings is larger than the back, meaning their wings are shorter and more proportional to the rest of them.

The antennae of the flying carpenter ant are curved, sometimes appearing to be jointed. Carpenter ants have slender waists that give their bodies a segmented appearance.

Unfortunately, both carpenter ants and termites swarm during the same time of the year and prefer to live in stumps or other wooden environments.

This means they can both infest your home, so knowing the difference between the two is incredibly important before any extermination efforts are undertaken. 

In Conclusion

The only known insects to drop their wings are carpenter ants and termites. Both species shed their wings in relation to their mating process, and only certain castes of the insects within any given colony will be born with wings.

Once mating is complete, the termites and ants lose their wings. Either of these insects could be the culprit of a house infestation, but it’s relatively simple to tell them apart once you know the differences between the two.

Alright, that’s it for this article, here are a few hand-selected articles that you might also find interesting reads:

Top 10 fastest flying insects in the world

The Unlucky 13: Insects with the Shortest Life Spans

What Is The Largest Insect Swarm?

Steve Foster

Mad about bugs and wanting to publish as many articles as I can to help educate people about these amazing beautiful creatures! For more info check out my about page https://schoolofbugs.com/about-steve-foster/

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