Ants vs. Termites

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Keith's Pro Tips

"Even though they are small, do your best to get a look at the ant or termite's body. The amount of segments that have will be the surest sign of which pest you are dealing with."

Ants With Wings: The Difference Between Flying Ants & Termites

Termites and ants (particularly Carpenter Ants) often look similar at first glance, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. When people see “white ants” crawling around, they are actually seeing termites workers.

The type of termites and ants that most get mistaken for one another is the winged variety of each insect species, known as swarmers or reproductives.

If you are wondering why ants or termites have wings it is because both swarmer termites and swarmer ant have the same job, which is to leave the colony in order to mate and create an expansion of a new colony. 

Another reason termites and ants may be mistaken for one another is wood damage. Termites are not the only insect that has an affinity for eating or burrowing through wood. Carpenter Ants are also very destructive to wood. Unlike termites, carpenter Ants don’t actually eat wood. Instead, they bore through and nest inside wood, creating tunnels similar to termites.

To better help you in telling the difference between ants and termites, laid out their characteristics below.

Ants vs. Termites

When trying to determine if what you are seeing are flying ants with wings or termites, there are two things you need to consider: their appearance and their behavior.

Once you have a basic idea of how ants and termites are different, identifying which one you have will be much easier.

Ant & Termite Appearance

Both ants and termites have a caste system where each type of colony member performs a specific task. Ants have 2 castes: the worker and the reproductive.

Termites have 3 castes: the worker, the soldier, and the reproductive. The termite soldier is easily recognized by their large heads and large mandibles. Their bodies are also noticeably larger than the other termite castes.

You will also want to try to get a good look at the pest's body. You can easily tell the difference between an ant and termite by looking at their body segments.

Ants have 3 body segments (head, thorax, abdomen) and termites have 2 body segments (head and abdomen). An ant's body segments are easily seen because their waists are much skinnier than a termite's.

Ants vs Termites Body Segments

Ant and termites also have different antennae. Ant antennae are typically narrow and bent like an elbow. Termite antennae are also narrow, but they are straight and beaded.

What Are Ants With Wings?

Ants with wings are known as reproductive ants, alates, or swarmers. These winged ants use their wings to fly out of their colonies and more easily travel to a new area where they can reproduce and establish a new colony. Termites also have reproductive swarmers that have wings and perform essentially the same job.

The way to tell the ants with wings apart from the termites with wings is by observing the wing size.

The flying reproductive ants have 4 wings, with the fore-wings being noticeably longer than the back wings. Termite reproductives also have 4 wings but they are all the exact same size.

Spotting winged ants or termites is a serious cause for concern because they signify that there is a large infestation or formed colony nearby and they are expanding even further.

Ants vs Termite Wing Comparison


Ant & Termite Behavior

Foraging termites and carpenter ants may seem to behave the same, but there are some things you can look for to spot the difference. 

It can sometimes be easy to confuse the two because they both tunnel and destroy wood and wooden structures. But why they are doing is different. Termites tunnel and chew wood to actually feed on the wood, more specifically the cellulose in the wood. Carpenter ants tunnel and nest in wood, and do not actually consume the wood. 

If you see tunnels in wood, check the tunnel's characteristics. If the tunnel is smooth and clean, then it is likely carpenter ants. If the tunnel looks slightly dirty, then it is likely termites.

Termite Mud Tube

Also be on the lookout for mud tubes. Creating mud tubes to travel from nest to structure is a termite trait not an ant trait. This is because termites need dark, moist and enclosed spaces to travel and stay alive.

This is not a limitation of most ants. So if you are seeing mud tubes along a wooden structural point (like a column) or along a foundation, then it is termites.

Getting control of ants or termites can seem intimidating, but we have guides that can help you every step of the way!

Ant Control Guide

Termite Control Guide

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