Many people confuse carpenter termites with ants. And not without good reason.
Both insects have antennas, a tiny body, and six legs.
Also, both carpenter ants and termites live in wood.
Nonetheless, correctly identifying these two pests is vital to terminate them.
In this article, we’ll go over all the differences between ants and termites.
Let’s dive in.
Carpenter Ants vs Termites: Appearance
- Termites generally range from a quarter-inch to three-quarters of an inch (1/4″-3/4″).
- Carpenter ants vary between a quarter-inch and a little over half an inch long (1/4″-5/8″).
- Carpenter ants have segmented bodies, while termite bodies are relatively straight.
- Carpenter ants have circles of golden hairs on their abdomen. Termites have no distinctive patterns on their bodies.
- Carpenter ants have a red or black body. Some termites can have black or reddish color, while others have orange, brown, or cream-colored bodies.
- Carpenter ants have bent antennae, while termites have straight antennae.
Carpenter Ants vs Temites: Behavior and Habitat
Termites build much larger colonies than carpenter ants.
In general, Carpenter ants will have members between 350 to almost 2,000 workers per colony.
Termite colonies, on the other hand, vary between several thousand to a million members.
Termites get their primary source of nourishment from wood. But they will consume anything that has cellulose such as wallpapers, books, and glue.
In contrast, carpenters do not eat wood. Instead, they are attracted to sweets and dead insects.
They are called carpenter ants because they tunnel through wood and nest in it.
Carpenter ants and termites live in wood. The only exception is subterranean termites, which live in the soil.
Both these insects are attracted to a home with moist, rotting wood.
Carpenter ants prefer to live in trees.
When they move into your home it’s usually for two reasons:
- They are trying to build a sub-colony.
- You have damaged or damp wood inside your home.
When the carpenter ant’s main colony reaches maximum capacity, they will scout an ideal place for one or more sub-colonies.
The sub-colony will provide more places to store food, infantries, and a backup territory should their main colony perish.
Ants fight each other for territory and resources. As such, there is constant pressure to expand colonies.
Winged Carpenter Ants vs Winged Termites
- Both Carpenter ants and termites fly to mate and reproduce.
- Flying termites have straight antennae while flying ants have bent antennae
- Flying termites have two pairs of translucent wings, while ants have two brownish pairs of wings.
- Both the front and back pairs of termite wings are equal in length and twice as long as their bodies. Ants on the other hand have unequal wings that are more proportionate to their bodies.
- Flying ants have pinched bodies, while termites have relatively straight bodies.
Carpenter ant vs Termite Droppings
Carpenter Ant Droppings
Carpenter ants’ droppings look like little brown or black stains or patches.
These patches are hard to come by in nature since ants only poop inside their nest.
Even if you were to come by a nest, ants droppings would blend in with the nests.
The most common way to examine ant droppings is by creating artificial ants nests in white containers.
Ants were fed food coloring to make it easier to make the droppings easier to spot on the white surface.
Termite droppings vary in appearance depending on the species of termites.
There are three common forms they can take: Pellets, Mud tubes, and Patches.
Termite Pellets or Frass
Pellets, a.k.a frass, are hexagonal, egg-shaped granules.
They look like sand or coffee ground and feel a little rough if stepped on.
A mud tube is made of termite droppings, soil, saliva, and wood.
These tubes help protect termites when traveling between food and the nest.
These mud tunnels take on different forms: working tube, exploratory tube and drop tubes.
Working tube and exploratory tube look like veins running up against your wall.
Drop tubes look like calcium deposits that hang in caves. Except they hang from the ceiling.
Patches or Seals
Seals look like a paste.
Termites use them to seal entry points around their nest.
Carpenter Ant Infestation vs Termite Infestation
Signs Carpenter Ant Infestation
Ant infestations are easier to spot than termites. That’s because ants forage on food and water out in the open.
Here’s what you should watch out for:
- Live ants
If you see black or red ants in your home, especially in large numbers, you may have an ant infestation.
You’ll typically find these in your kitchen and bathroom.
- Ant Pathways or Trails
Many species of ants secrete a trail pheromone to attract other ants from their colony to a particular food source.
If you see ant trails around your home, it is a good indication of an ant infestation.
- Wood Shavings
Hollow wood and wood shavings could be a sign of carpenter ants. You’ll typically find these shavings underneath windows, door frames, roof trims, rafters etc.
- Overrun Food
If you see ants swarming food in your home, it’s a strong indication that you have an infestation.
- Weird Noises
If you think carpenter ants live behind your wall, you can tap on the wall with a hammer and listen very carefully.
You might be able to hear them react if you place your ear against your walls.
You may also hear a quiet rustling sounds coming from the walls.
When worker carpenter ants create your tunnels, they make noises.
You can typically hear them scraping your woodwork.
Signs Of Termite Infestation
Termite infestations are much harder to spot than ant infestation. That’s because termites are sneaky and hide in small, dark spaces.
Here’s what you should watch out for:
- Flying Termites or Swarmers
Flying termites signify a termite population is ready to expand into new colonies.
- Mud Tubes
Mud tubes could be a sign of subterranean termites.
A mud tube is made of small pieces of soil and wood.
These tubes help protect termites from predators.
They also protect termites from dry environments when gathering food.
- Uneven or Bubbling Paint
Uneven or bubbling paint could be a sign of termite damage.
- Frass / Droppings
If you find a small pile of what looks like pellets inside or outside the home, it could be a sign termite infestation.
- Weird Noises
If you hear a quiet clicking sound coming from the walls, it could be a sign of termite infestation.
When worker termites eat your woodwork, they make noises.
You can typically hear them eating if you place your ear against your walls
- Hollow Wood
Termites devour wood from the inside out, leaving a weak shell.
As such, when you knock on an area that has termite damage, it will sound hollow
Carpenter Ant damage vs Termite damage
Carpenter ants create tunnels that have a neat, smooth finish.
On the other hand, termite leaves tunnels that are more messy and have a rough finish.
Carpenter Ant Damage
- Kickout holes
- Difficult to open windows and doors
- Bulging walls
- Sinking ceilings
- Hollow Wood
- Warping Wood
- Entry and Exit Holes in Wood
- Kick-out holes
- Hollow wood
- Bubbling paint
- Difficult to open windows and doors
- Timber beam of door damaged by termite
- Creaking floorboards
- Large holes or gaps on wood termite hole in wood
- Large tunnels on wood
- texture of traces of termites eat wood
- Visible tunnel patterns through paint
- Warping or sagging wood
- Crumbling wood
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Causes Flying Ants In Your House?
Flying ants, known as Alates, are reproductive ants.
If you see one, that means there’s a mature ant colony that’s expanding nearby.
Ants colonies release flying ants during mating season.
The particular time of the year varies per region.
But the purpose is all the same: to mate.
Flying ants emerge from their nest to participate in an event called the nuptial flight.
During the flight, virgin queens mate with males.
The males die shortly after mating, and female ants go on to start a new colony.
If you have an ant infestation inside or around your home, here are some factors to consider.
Ants are attracted to moisture.
To prevent an ant infestation, make sure to proper drainage systems.
You’ll also want to minimize the use of mulch in your home.
Layers of mulch provide ants with the perfect shelter.
It traps moisture and insulates against harsh temperatures.
If you must use mulch at home, make sure to replace old mulch with new ones at least once a year.
You can use rock, gravel, pebbles, rubber as an alternative to mulch.
Pebbles or gravel is typically too dense and compact for termites to tunnel through. As a result, they won’t be able to access the perimeter of your foundation.
Ants are attracted to unsealed food.
To avoid ant infestation, make sure to store your food correctly.
Carpenter ants love damp wood. To avoid these ants from staying in your home, replace any rotting or damaged wood.
You’ll also want to caulk crevices and voids in your foundation and walls. Ants are tiny and can enter even the smallest holes, so you can’t be too careful.
What Causes flying Termites In Your House?
If you see flying termites in your home, it’s an indication that you gave a termite infestation nearby, and it’s growing.
If there’s a swarm outdoors, they might have just stumbled into your home.
If no entry points or no swarm are happening outside your home, you likely have an infestation inside your house.
Termite colonies don’t begin producing flying termites (swarmers) until they are mature, typically after 3-4 years.
That means that the infestation in your home is large and needs to be addressed immediately.
Resource: What Attracts Termites To Your Home?
Which Is Worse Termites or Carpenter Ants?
While both present a risk to your home, termites will damage your home more than Carpenter ants.
There are several reasons for this.
The first is colony size.
Termites tend to create larger colony sizes than ants.
Subterranean termites can grow their nest up to a million members.
Carpenter ants, on the other hand, will only have between 350 to almost 2,000 workers per colony.
Because of their large numbers, termites will cause more damage to your home and do it in a shorter time.
Termites are also sneakier than Carpenter ants. They eat and live deep inside the walls and soil.
As such, termites are some of the hardest pest infestations to identify. They could go on destroying your house for years before you become aware of them.
In contrast, Carpenter ants come from their nest to forage for food.
You’ll see them crawling around your home. Because carpenter ants expose themselves, it’s easy to identify and eliminate infestations before they get worse.
Another reason termites’ are more dangerous is their diet.
Termites eat wood, but carpenter termites only tunnel and nest in it.
As such, Carpenter ant damage is not as extensive as termite damage.
Also, Carpenter prefers to live in trees.
They tend to migrate to homes only when it has damp and rotting wood.
In contrast, Drywood termites will eat both damp and dry wood.
Do Carpenter Ants Eat Termites?
Yes. Ants eat termites.
These two insects are ancient rivals.
Ants are known to raid termite mounds to feed on termites. The ants don’t demolish the entire colony. Instead, they only take some ants and come back for more.
Carpenter ants in particular will raid termite galleries inside wood to kill and eat them.
Ants can’t digest termites on their own.
To digest food, ants use a special pouch inside their mouth called the infrabuccal pocket to strain large food.
Anything that moves past the infrabuccal pocket is digested while everything else is spat out.
Other ants, such as fire ants, use their larvae to digest food.
Fire ants place the food on the larvae stomach.
The larvae then spit out chemicals to digest the food.
The result is a slime-like liquid that the workers can use to feed the rest of the colony.
Are Carpenter Ants a Sign of Termites?
No. Having carpenter ants in your home doesn’t necessarily mean you have termites.
But, the same things that attract carpenter ants attract termites.
Both insects are attracted to moist, rotten wood.
In most cases, Carpenter ants will not infest your house unless you have damp, rotting wood.
But once infested they are capable of chewing into dry wood an will expand their nest into dry wood if necessary.
If you keep the wood in your home maintained, Carpenter ants will usually stick to the trees.
So, while having Carpenter ants doesn’t necessarily mean termites, they are a good indication that you have a problem that could lead to termite infestation.