In a telltale sign of spring, swarms of termites are taking to the air, grossing out residents and unsettling homeowners.
The U.N. says eating more insects could be good for you and the world, but don't try telling that right now to residents of the Southeast. They're in the middle of termite swarm season, an annual rite of spring where the tiny creatures invade neighborhoods in groups of hundreds — sometimes even thousands.
In scenes perhaps reminiscent of a B horror movie, clouds of the winged insects have taken flight, buzzing around streetlights, entering homes and flying into people's hair. One U.K. tabloid dubbed the pesky affair "termite apocalypse."
But it's far from the end of the world: Scientists say the critters are merely going through an annual ritual, flying about in swarms to try and find a mate and start a new colony. The swarms themselves aren't harmful to humans, but they can be an unnerving sight. And if huge numbers appear inside the home, that could indicate a serious infestation problem.
"It can be a little bit unsettling for a homeowner to come home after work and find thousands and thousands of these winged termites all over countertop and kitchen floor," said Jim Fredericks, director of technical services and chief entomologist with the National Pest Management Association, based in Fairfax, Va.
Termites are found all across the U.S., but the heaviest infestations occur in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic states, Fredericks told MSN News.
In the Southeast, the most visible swarms so far are of Formosan termites, a particularly voracious species unintentionally imported decades ago from Asia in the wood ballasts of ships, Fredericks said.
Social media has been abuzz this week with pictures and stories posted by residents of New Orleans, Metairie, La., Mobile, Ala., and other cities of their encounters with the sinister-looking termite swarms.
"Hundreds of them swarmed on us on stage at Rousselle Hall at Loyola tonight during our dance recital dress rehearsal. It was so gross," Brandy Korach Durel said Wednesday in a post to a Times-Picayune Facebook page titled "Are they swarming near you?"
"Termite hell has hit Chamale in Slidell," Andri Mitchell wrote on the page. "My kid won't stop freaking out and the cats are having a field day."
Other residents, like Matthew Sellers of Mobile, Ala., told their stories to local media outlets.
Sellers said his house was invaded by termite swarms Monday night.
"Seems like they found me. My daughter and I were there watching TV last night and I looked in the kitchen and there was hundreds of thousands of them," Sellers told WKRG-TV.
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
Each spring, the winged, reproductive form of the termites takes to the air in huge numbers to try to find a mate and start a new colony. Most of them will die, having been eaten by birds and other predators, and only a few will successfully mate and start a new colony.
The swarm season starts earlier in the South, where warm weather typically arrives earlier.
"When we get consistent warm weather days above 70-75 degrees, particularly days following a rain event, that's when we see swarms emerge," Fredericks said.
The swarmers themselves don’t cause damage; it's the worker colonies that remain underground and chew into the wood of a home or building that are the culprit. Pest-control officials estimate termites cause at least $5 billion in property damage every year in the U.S.
Bobby Pugh, manager of Redd Pest Solutions, based in Gulfport, Miss., said his company has been fielding hundreds of calls per week from worried residents asking what to do with the swarms.
"Unless you have a great number inside (the home), it's probably not a reason to worry," he told MSN News.
"We recommend an inspection of home, both interior and exterior, just for peace of mind to make sure swarm is not originating from their property."
More from MSN