When you see small winged insects in your rafters, deck, or other areas of your building, you may think the worst—termites. Termites can be very dangerous, because they eat away the wood of your structure, making it weak. While termites are a real fear, the winged insects you are seeing may not be termites at all. They may be alates.
An alate is a small winged insect. It can refer to any winged insect, but in many cases what you are looking at are winged ants. Winged ants are usually the queens of a colony. While a queen ant can be troublesome in a colony of ants, they are usually not self-reliant. If you are only seeing winged alates and not other ants, you may not have too much of a problem at all.
Winged ants may venture out from the colony to locate a new location for the colony. If you see alates in your home, you may be quickly looking at an ant infestation. If the queen ant is alone, and no other ants follow her, you will find that she quickly dies out on her own. Alates are not able to survive without the colony to protect and feed them.
If you see winged insects in your home or office, you should contact an exterminator right away. While it may simply be alates and nothing to worry about, it could also be termites. If the alates are a sign of an ant infestation, you will also need an exterminator. To be on the safe side, you should always contact a professional for identification of insects and to get treatment for your building.