For the average homeowner, it can be a challenge to find out if the tiny, dark-colored, winged insects that are swarming all over their house are carpenter ants or termites. They both look the same to the naked eye – black with wings – and many people have trouble telling them apart. However, a treatment for carpenter ants is very different from a termite treatment, so being able to tell them apart could save you a lot of trouble and money in the long run.
While both are a dreadful pest, known particularly for their destructive nature, there are plenty of differences in their size, appearance, nest formation, and the extent of damage they cause. Here are a few key indicators to help you differentiate between them:
1) Wings of different length and shape
2) Body shape
Termites have a full body mostly uniform in width, and the three regions – head, thorax, and abdomen – are not readily visible. On the other hand, carpenter ants have a constricted waist between the thorax and the abdomen, and the three body regions are easily noticeable.
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In carpenter ants, they are jointed and elbowed, while termites have a set of straight antennae with beadlike segments. Since these are pretty small, they should be observed under magnification.
Perhaps the most important distinction between carpenter ants and termites is that the first do not eat the wood they reside in, while the latter do, and this is also visible in the type of nest they form. Carpenter ants can establish nests both inside and outside the house, but they will be attracted primarily by wood suffering from moisture damage because it’s easier to chew and also ensures the colony’s reproduction and growth. Looking at damaged wood, you will notice their tunnels are clean, while the walls of the tunnels look as if they had been sandpapered. Frass (sawdust, soil, and body parts) is often found beneath openings to the nest.
Termites establish their nest in a plot of soft soil, but also go above ground looking for additional sources of food. To protect themselves from predators and also to ensure the needed temperature and moisture, they build long tubes out of mud and fecal materials, called exploratory tubes. The tubes are about as thick as a pencil and are usually seen running up the sides of exposed foundations.
If you think you have either a carpenter ant infestation or a termite infestation on your hands, here are some of the signs to look for:
Carpenter Ant Infestation
Because differentiating between a carpenter ant and a termite infestation is challenging for the naked eye, homeowners should not see it as a do-it-yourself project, especially if the infestation is advanced and threatens the structural integrity of the building. Rather, they should act quickly and hire a pest control company that is well established in their area in order to prevent carpenter ants or termites from spreading in or near their property.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.