Termites are the enemy of every homeowner. These pests attack your home and cause incredible damage with surgical precision. But what many people don’t know is that termites and ants have similar behaviors. This misconception can lead to homeowners thinking they have termites when they really have an ant colony – or vice versa (not a good thing).
Let’s compare both insects to clear the air.
Table of Contents
- What Does a Termite Look Like?
- What Does an Ant Look Like?
- Termites vs. Ants: How to Tell the Difference
- Termites vs. Ants: Behavioral Differences
At first glance, you might mistake a termite for an ant. Their size varies from 1/8” to 1.” And they can vary in color, too, with white, brown and black being the most common. The termite’s color will be dependent on its age and type.
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What Does an Ant Look Like?
Ants that invade homes are typically odorous house ants, which are 1/8” long and typically brown or black in color.
Most types of ants are similar in appearance. The primary difference between species is size. Carpenter ants, for example, are much larger than their odorous house ant counterparts. These ants also live in wood, so it’s easy to confuse the two.
Termites vs. Ants: How to Tell the Difference
It can be difficult to tell the difference between an ant and a termite, especially if you have winged versions in your home.
Both termites and ants have winged variations, which are really just sexually mature males that leave the nest to mate.
Here’s how to differentiate between these two insects:
Many people confuse winged termites for flying ants because they look so similar. To determine which type of insect you’re dealing with, take a look at the bug’s wings.
Termites have two sets of wings, and they are both the same size. Ants also have two sets of wings, but they are of different lengths.
Waist and Antennae
Another way to tell the difference between a termite and an ant is to look at their antennae and waist.
- Termites have a straight waist, whereas ants have a pinched waist.
- Termites have straight antennae, whereas ants have bent antennae.
Take a closer look at the insects you’re seeing in your home. Appearance will quickly help you determine which type of bug you’re dealing with.
Swarmers (a.k.a. flying termites) shed their wings at some point during the mating season. Flying ants do not.
If you’ve found discarded wings on your windowsill or in other areas of your home, you can be almost certain that you’re dealing with a termite infestation.
Termites vs. Ants: Behavioral Differences
Appearance is the best way to tell the difference between a termite and an ant, but behaviors can also help you identify which type of insect you’re seeing.
Termite Diet and Hierarchy
All species of termites thrive on a diet of cellulose, found in wood and plants. This means that they’ll not only attack your home and wood furniture, but they’ll also attack paper, cardboard and plants.
Termites are similar to ants in that they have a class structure. In other words, each termite has its own job, which helps keep the colony going.
There are three primary classes in a colony:
Worker termites can be either male or female, and they carry out a wide range of duties. They build, they mine and they even act as midwives.
These guys are typically the ones that cause the most damage to properties, and they make up the majority of the colony.
These termites have a large head and big jaws, which helps them defend their colonies. Soldiers are sexually underdeveloped and can be either male or female.
Their large jaws are so massive that they cannot feed themselves, so they rely on workers to take care of this task for them.
Soldiers are the colony’s first line of defense, and they would give their lives to protect the others. They sound the alarm when something is wrong, banging their heads against the wood to send out a warning signal.
Swarmers, the winged termites, are sexually mature, and they are often called alates. These guys leave the nest in the spring and summer to mate. After they’re done mating, they shed their wings and look for a new nest.
Ant Diet and Hierarchy
Ants have a varied diet, but they tend to prefer sweets. Some species of ants (there are more than 12,000) lay down a scent that leads colony-mates to a food source.
Ants, like termites, have classes, and they are very similar.
Only polymorphic ants have soldiers, and they’re much larger than workers with strong jaws. Soldier ants are all female. They use their large jaws to protect the colony and to carry larger objects from one place to another.
Workers make up the large majority of an ant colony, and they are also all female. These ladies look after the queen, forage for food and care for young ants.
They also help expand and maintain the colony’s nest.
Flying ants are also all female, and they have two sets of wings that are different in size. They leave the nest in the summer to start a new colony. After they land, they clip their wings and use them as a source of protein for their colony.
Winged drones are the only males in an ant colony, and their only job is to reproduce. In the summer, they fly off with the female flying ants to start a new colony. After they mate, they die.
The behaviors and appearances of these two insects are similar, but there are also stark differences that will help you identify the insect you’re seeing in or around your home.