Insects Pest Control

Termites VS Ants, What’s the Difference? 8 Ways to Tell Them Apart

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Swarms of flying insects in your home can indicate a dangerous pest infestation. Termites will usually come to mind because they’re more damaging as they prefer chewing through wood. However, before you start taking action, it’s important to identify whether you’re dealing with termites or flying ants. Both insects share many similarities but a few quick observations can help you distinguish them and focus your removal efforts properly.

In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between termites and ants. By the end of the article, you’ll have a much easier time distinguishing between the pests at a quick glance. The secret to proper identification lies in the ability to check for particular physical and behavioral features. Without further ado, here are the best ways to tell termites apart from flying ants.

1. Type of Damage

Before inspecting the insects themselves more closely, it’s worth checking out the damage to the home. If you notice sawdust piles or other indicators of wood damage, that strongly suggests the presence of termites. That’s because they’re attracted to all kinds of cellulose-rich materials including wood and paper. It’s rare for ants, regardless of species, to eat wood whereas termites regularly cause structural damage.



2. Food Preference

As previously mentioned, termites have a pretty strict diet of mainly wood and paper. Ants, on the other hand, prefer more diverse foods. They are omnivores so they will feast on random debris of food in your home. If you see flying insects attracted to food leftovers from the garbage or pet food bowls, then you most likely have to deal with ants and not termites. The latter will usually be found hidden in the drywall, insulation, and various structural areas of the home containing wood.

3. Antennae Style

Of all distinguishing physical characteristics of termites and ants, the antennae are probably the most helpful to identify them quickly. The rule of thumb here is that termites show straight antennae while the ones of ants are bent. It’s a subtle but important distinction that allows you to proceed with the right extermination approach.



4. Body Shape

Although the body shape of both termites and flying ants can appear quite similar, you might be able to tell the difference by checking out the abdomen area. That’s where the more rectangular body of the termite stands out compared to the more constricted waist found on lots of ant species such as carpenter ants. Termites lack this well-defined waist which makes it easier to distinguish their body shape from the ants.



5. Color

Most people are familiar with the dark-colored bodies of ants that sometimes show red tinges, depending on the species. It’s also easier to recognize an ant because it tends to roam around in the open without being bothered by the light. This is an important aspect because termites show off light-colored bodies, often translucent or white. These pests will also avoid the light of day so it’s quite unlikely to randomly stumble upon termites because they tend to remain hidden from view.



6. Wings

Some physical characteristics between ants and termites can differ in very subtle ways, at least at a first impression. Both insects have four wings so that might seem like the kind of feature that can potentially confuse you rather than help with the identification. However, upon closer inspection, there are notable differences between the wings of flying ants and termites.




Ants show durable wings that appear more proportionate to their bodies. In contrast, termites have more fragile wings that seem unusually long compared to their bodies. Their wings also have the same shape while the hind wings of the ants are shorter than the front ones. Finding insect wings in your home can indicate the presence of termites because their delicate wings can fall off quite often.

7. Lifespan

Queen ants are able to live for years but the lifespan of worker ants is much reduced to just a few months. This is another characteristic useful to distinguish between the two pests because termites have a longer life cycle. Termites go through more developmental stages until reaching full maturity. Workers live for around two years while queen termites have an impressive lifespan that can reach decades. The bottom line is that termites live longer than flying ants.

8. Behavior

The behavior of flying ants and termites might be confusing when it comes to distinguishing between them. The way termites interact with wood is pretty well known. Flying ants can also be associated with wooden structures but the key difference here is that the insects don’t consume the cellulose-rich substance. As opposed to termites, the ants will just create openings for their nesting colonies.




Galleries in the wood created by ants tend to look smooth and finished while the tunnels of termites are rougher and packed with soil. Another important behavioral aspect refers to the type of wood preferred by the insects. Because they feed directly on the material, termites will eat through any kind of wood, including healthy types. In comparison, damaged and moist wood is more preferable to carpenter ants to build their nests.

Which Insect is More Harmful?

Despite the nuisance of flying ants, termites come out on top in terms of danger to the property. A termite infestation can be seriously destructive and will typically require the services of a professional exterminator because of structural damage. It’s important to take the right measures when dealing with any kind of pest problem in your home but termites are among the most harmful insects that can invade the property.

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