Ants vs. Termites: What's the Difference?

Last updated: 6/8/21
Estimated read time: 6.5 minutes

Despite popular belief, ants and termites are not closely related. It’s essential to tell these pests apart, especially if you are worried you may have an infestation, since the methods of ant control vastly differ from those of termite control. Knowing the tell-tale signs and traits of both carpenter ants and termites could save you from a whirlwind of trouble in the future.

Ants vs. Termites Comparison

TERMITES ANTS
BODY Head and thorax with a broad waist Head, thorax, and abdomen with an hourglass waist
ANTENNAE Beaded and mostly straight with a slight curve Elbow or handlebar-shaped
COLOR Slight cream or pale orange (only the king and queen are black) Reddish-black
WINGS
  • two sets
  • uniform in size
  • equal in length
  • paddle-shaped
  • weak strength
  • two sets
  • non-uniform
  • different lengths
  • pointed
  • strong
DAMAGE TO WOOD Eats wood Excavates wood, creating entry and exit tunnels
EATING HABITS Wood and only wood Omnivorous, often found outside foraging for sweet treats
TELL-TALE SIGNS
  • discarded wings
  • mud tubes*
  • frass, consisting of fecal matter*
  • no droppings at all*
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: If they’re white, they’re termites!

*only applies to the subterranean termite

  • marching ants hunting for food outside and making their way back in through entry points
  • frass, consisting of chewed-up wood and fecal matter
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: White ants do not exist!
INTENSITY OF DESTRUCTION MASSIVE – often costing thousands in repairs MINOR – often ants get noticed before the damage becomes detrimental

Carpenter ants vs termites: Bodies

The easiest way to tell apart carpenter ants and termites is by their physical appearance. While termites only have two body segments—their head and thorax with a broad waist—ants have three segments, made up of their head, thorax, and an abdomen with an hourglass waist. With their straight antennae, Termites have two sets of uniform wings that are equal in length and paddle-shaped. On the other hand, Ants have antennae that protrude from their head at a right angle and, if winged, have two sets of non-uniform wings, though both are pointed.

Termites are white, creme, or pale orange, while ants are reddish-black—there are no white ants. If you notice a small, white insect inside your house, it’s probably a termite.

How Do Termites and Ants Get Inside a House?

Ants and termites get into a house differently, so determining just how the insects foraged can immediately point to the type of insect you’re dealing with.

  • Subterranean termites live underground and rely on wood-to-ground contact to enter your home. They commonly enter at the ground level or below through wooden structures or cracks in the foundation, concrete blocks, or brick mortar. While many other insects use the wood as a shelter, subterranean termites feed on the wood and create mud tubes and tunnels for protection, moisture, and warmth. If you notice mud tunnels leading to small holes in wood and foundation, you may have a subterranean termite infestation on your hands.
  • Drywood termites are not restricted to ground-level access. Instead, swarmers are sent out to locate small holes and crevices within the wood of your house. Once a suitable location has been found, drywood termites excavate the wood to build a small nest—they then seal themselves inside and begin producing eggs. Due to their entrance habits, drywood termites can enter at any floor level.
  • Carpenter ants are also not restricted to ground-level entry points, meaning they can enter a home through any small crack or hole within its wood structure, siding, and window or door frames. They can get in through tiny openings around plumbing and electrical fixtures and even crawl up wires, shrubs, and tree branches to find small crevices and openings at the top level of your home.

Ant Droppings vs Termite Droppings

Droppings are one of the most obvious ways to identify an infestation, whether termite or ant.

  • Subterranean termites: If you notice significant wood damage and other tell-tale signs of a termite infestation, but don’t see any droppings, you are probably dealing with subterranean termites. Subterranean termites use their fecal matter as building material when creating mud tubes, so you’ll rarely see droppings.
  • Drywood termites: On the other hand, if you notice wood damage and a mound of droppings that resemble grains of salt and pepper, you have drywood termites, which don’t build mud tunnels. Note that the color of the droppings may vary, depending on the color of wood that the termites are eating.
  • Carpenter ants: Unlike drywood termite droppings, which consist solely of fecal matter, ant droppings look like soft, fibrous pieces of wood and fecal matter loosely compacted together. Ant frass consists of wood particles, feces, tiny pieces of dirt, and sometimes, parts of dead ants. You’ll typically find ant droppings near nesting sites in slit-like openings within the wood. They will dispose of their fecal matter through wood crevices, treating them as a natural garbage chute.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ants vs Termites

Do white ants exist?

No, there is no such thing as a white ant, though it’s a name sometimes used to describe termites. So, if what you see is a crawling white insect, you may have a termite problem!

Can I have termites if I have ants?

Yes, it is possible to have termites and ants simultaneously. While it is true that ants can attack and eat termites, ants only attack individual termites and are not able to wipe out an entire termite colony. Termite nests are tough to penetrate, so ants will either wait for something else to cause damage to the nest (e.g., humans or animals) or create small holes in the nest. A termite will sacrifice its life for the good of the colony, so when one patches up the damage, ants will take the opportunity to attack. However, it’s essential to understand that ants will not attack the entire colony at once — they will only take what is necessary.

Flying ants vs termites: What’s the difference?

Flying ants, also knowns as swarmers, are reddish-black and have three body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen) with an hourglass waist, angled antennae, and two sets of non-uniform wings, which both come to a point. On the other hand, termites are white, creme, or pale orange and have only two body segments (the head and thorax) with a board waist, straight antennae, and two sets of wings that are uniform in length and paddle-like shape.

While there are many different ant species, wing ants are not a separate species—instead, they are swarmers, which can be found within every colony. Swarmer ants are one of three types of ants (aside from the queen and worker ants, neither of which possess wings) and are responsible for scouting out the nearby area to find spots where new colonies could be established.

What’s worse—carpenter ants or termites?

While having an ant infestation can be frustrating, an termite infestation causes significantly more damage, often costing thousands of dollars in repairs.

How Do You Get Rid of Ants and Termites?

While some people may swear by DIY control measures to permanently get rid of an ant or termite infestation, it is best to reach out to pest control professionals that can help you better assess the situation. Infestations can quickly get out of hand without proper expertise and access to high-quality products, especially if you’re dealing with termites.

Termite Control
When it comes to termite control, we utilize only the most innovative termite treatment methods. We’ll thoroughly inspect your home, confirm a termite infestation, determine the severity of the issue, eradicate termites using Termidor HE Liquid, and follow up with long-term protection utilizing Advance baiting systems.

Ant Control
If ants are your problem, we’ll double-check to confirm your suspicions and create a custom-designed ant control treatment plan to eliminate the colony using EPA-approved products.

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