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Termites and Carpenter AntsHow To Tell The Difference Between Ants and Termites

You may be alarmed to learn that across the nation, over a billion dollars in damage is caused annually due to the wood-centered eating habits of termites. As a matter of fact, destruction caused by termite infestations actually is more financially costly than damage done via natural disasters like hurricanes, tornado and windstorms, COMBINED.

Unlike noisy and disturbing storms however, termites do their damage on the sly, quietly right under our noses. Termites are an issue to take very seriously and that’s why Solutions Pest & Lawn wants to be your go-to headquarters for professional products designed to control termites.

How to Properly Distinguish between Termites and Ants

Termites and ants, often look similar by the naked eye and it can be difficult to distinguish between the two at times. Often people mistakenly state that they saw “white ants” crawling around. In reality, there are no species of all white ants and what they were describing were termites.

Termites and ants are often mistaken for one another, especially the winged variety of each insect species, known as swarmers. Both swarmer termite and ant have the same job, that is to leave the colony in order to mate and create expansion of a new colony. 

Another cause for confusion where termites and ants may be mistaken for one another or an erroneous diagnosis would be made is wood damage. Termites are not the only insect that has an affinity for eating or burrowing through wood. There is a type of ant which damages wood as well known as the carpenter ant. Carpenter ants don’t actually eat wood but actually dig through wood and make tunnels similar to termites. To better help you in differentiating between these two insects we have laid out their characteristics below.

How To Identify Termites

  • Termites do not have a pronounced waist like ants do--instead, the body of a termite is more rectangular shaped, without any narrowing in the center.

  • Termites have straight, beaded antennae.

  • Termite swarmers (also called alates) have four wings that are of equal size and shape. Its wings are also longer than their body.

Identifying Carpenter Ants

  • The carpenter ant has a very well-defined narrow, constricted waist which almost looks pinched.

  • The antennae of ants are bent when compared to termites.

  • A carpenter ant has four wings, with the back, hind wings shorter than its front fore wings. Their body, length-wise, is usually still bigger than the wings.

Differences in Ant Behavior vs. Termite Behavior

  • Color: Ant workers are reddish or dark-colored and are frequently seen in the open foraging for food. Termite workers, by comparison, are light colored or nearly translucent and go above and beyond to avoid being seen out in the open, the only time they may be seen is if their routine is disturbed.

  • Wing durability: Although both ants and termites have swarmers which leave their colonies to look to create new colonies, the wings of the termite fall off more easily than ant wings. You may seen scatterings of dropped wings when a termite is leaving a nesting site and looking out for these wings is a big indicator of a termite infestation when doing an inspection.

    • Use of wood: While termites like to eat wood as a part of their cellulose based diet, carpenter ants only tunnel into wood to travel to and from their nests. Both types of insects release frass but the way the frass looks for both insects looks different due to the type of wood they enjoy tunneling through. Carpenter ants look for moist and damaged wood for their nests while termites will chew right into undamaged wood.

    • Tunnel characteristics: The tunnels and galleries which carpenter ants make appear very clean and finished and smooth all the way through. Termite galleries are usually a bit more unkempt because they are filled with layers of soil and mud.

  • Mud tubes: There are a clear sign of the presence of termites rather than ants. Mud tubes are built on the outside of walls or between the soil and wood and serve as the passageways through which the termites travel (particularly subterranean termites)

Controlling Carpenter Ants and Termites

Due to the vast behavior differences and tendencies carpenter ants and termites have, when it comes to treating infestations of either insect, both require a different method of control and a different approach.Carpenter ants are usually treated through a combination of environmental modifications and pesticides designed to target carpenter ant colonies such as ant bait and dusts. However, termites on the other hand require a bit more work when it comes to inspecting for termites, treating them and preventing them from returning. 

If you do have winged insects in your home or building which appear to look like ants, it would be wise to try to collect a sample for identification. This can then be used to compare with online pictures and diagrams (which you can find via reliable online sources, such as universities, extension services, or us here at Solutions Pest & Lawn). 

You could also take a clear image of the insect yourself and present the image to an entomologist or to a pest-control professional for identification and recommended treatment, which is exactly what Solutions Pest & Lawn can do for you. If possible, take a high resolution photo of the winged insect and send it our way at identification@solutionsstores.com and we will get back to you as soon as possible with the correct identification as well as provide expert recommendations for control. 

For both termites and carpenter ants, control will consist of a multi-faceted approach using a variety of professional chemicals to kill the existing infestation and to prevent the insects from reinfesting the premises.

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Are Ants a Sign of Termites And How can One Tell Them Apart?

Termite and carpenter ant infestations make homeowners cringe. This is mainly because they see a practical decrease in the quality (& quantity) of their woodworked art pieces and furniture. Termites cause more damage than ants, but ants can cause real structural damage if the problem gets out of hand, there are certain cases where each of them have been recorded capable of leveling buildings. Recognizing which type of infestation you have, or understanding the slight correlation between carpenter ants and termites is something all homeowners should understand.


Confusion

People often confuse termites with carpenter ants. At a quick glance, they look similar in length, about 1/2 inch to 1 inch long. Both are colored similarly leaving them very similar to the human eye and the both cause structural damage to wood which is the chief concern. The winged version of both the termites and carpenter ants, however, represents the most striking similarity. In this respect, seeing what you may think looks like carpenter ants, may really indicate a termite infestation because they look so similar.


Food

Ants, namely carpenter ants, go after termites for their resources. This is because not only do they use the same materials but they also use the same channels, according to Colorado State University. These ants actually eat termites if they penetrate the termite's defenses. This would leave the termites open to attack at all times especially because of the resources the ants would plunder. Termites actually create defensive barricades to ward off all kinds of ant infestations. The fact that ants want to invade the termites, however, indicates a possible connection between seeing carpenter ants and having a termite infestation. This also means that both these insects would be exposing each other in front of a third organism leaving them to have multiple predators working on the same prey.


Shared Tunnels

Ants can live in termite tunnels and tend to hijack the tunnel as soon as the termites finish by imposing fatal authority. In fact, they prefer the termite tunnels because they already have shelter and food without putting in any kind of effort. This would make things awesome for them since they would not have to make the effort of constructing or gathering. Termites view ants as their main predators, however, and defend their tunnels to the death. Although it is unlikely for an ant colony to inhabit the same tunnels as termites at the same time, seeing carpenter ants could indicate a possible power struggle between existing termites.


Differences

Carpenter ants and termites look similar and both cause structural wood damage, but they do have distinct differences as well. Ants have pinched waists and a bend in their antennae. Termites, on the other hand, have a uniformly shaped abdomen and no bend to their antennae. Their tunnels look different as well. While termites actually eat the wood, carpenter ants simply carve out tunnels for shelter. The carpenter ant tunnels look extremely clean and meticulous while termite tunnels look messy with dirt in them, according to the University of Massachusetts.


Differences between Carpenter Ants and Termites

One of the key differences between termites and ants is the shape of their bodies. Carpenter ants, along with other ants, have narrow waists. This makes it a noticeable difference under a magnifying glass. Termites, on the other hand, have more broad waists and usually use that body structure for drilling soil with their bodies when they are digging.


Antennae

Termite antennae are unique looking mainly tend to resemble little beads or balls or nodes stuck on top of a straw. Ant antennae will look segmented and are distinctly elbowed.


Wings

Remember that carpenter ants and termites only have wings when they’re swarming. This would be midsummer time which would ensure they gather their foods and resources accordingly. However, if you do spot them with wings, there are a couple of ways to tell them apart, though these identifiers may be difficult to see. Both insects have two sets of wings. Termites’ wings are pretty much uniform in size while ants have two large forewings and two smaller hind wings.


Diets

Termites are most well known for eating wooden structures and shavings because they need the cellulose within the wood to survive. Do carpenter ants eat wood? No. Rather they make their homes in the wood, excavating the shavings as they burrow further into structures. Unlike termites, carpenter ants’ diets consist of sugars and proteins. Carpenter ants do not consume wood by ingesting it but rather through other means like chewing and spit them out to ensure they can use it later for construction and carrying purposes.


Attractants

Both the mites and carpenter ants find themselves ever attracted to the moisture inside your home. Naturally, they’re also both attracted to wood and easy points of entry and if its wooden then both are well equipped to dig out their own wooden tunnels. However, that’s where the list of what attracts carpenter ants and termites begins to deviate.


Another of the differences between termites and ants is that the carpenter ants don’t eat wood, so they’ll be attracted to other sources of food. They can have a bit of a sweet tooth, so keep syrups, honey and sugar stored properly. In addition, they need protein sources, so don’t leave out items like pet food or meats.


Whether you are dealing with ants or termites, Solutions Pest & Lawn has the products you need to successfully eliminate either pest problem. Visit the category pages to see the top recommended products for each target pest.

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