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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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