Telling the Difference Between Termite and Carpenter Ant Infestations

Affordable Pest Removal and Control Tips

Telling the Difference Between Termite and Carpenter Ant Infestations

Home Pest Control Tips — Telling the Difference Between Termite and Carpenter Ant Infestations

Homeowners are often terrified that their home might become infested by termites. Yet, we give little thought to the ongoing damage that carpenter ants cause. The signs and symptoms are very similar between the damages caused by termites and carpenter ants. How do you know if your home is at risk? Let’s explore.

Termites or Carpenter Ants?

Both insects damage wood. Termites eat wood. Carpenter Ants only tunnel through wood to create galleries where they live.

. Termites eat wood.

. Carpenter ants do not eat wood – They simply use wood to shelter their colony.

How to fell Ants from Termites

Antenna: One key difference between the two insects is the structure and shape of their antenna. Termites have a short antenna that does not have a main joint. This is that the antenna of termites is typically straight. Ants have a 90° elbow/bend in their antenna.

Wings: Termites have four wings that are almost the same size. Carpenter ants have four wings also, but the forewings are larger than the hindwings. Together, a forewing and hindwing form a triangle shape. Both insects shed their wings after dispersal.

Even if the insect is not present and you only find the discarded wings, you can look to see if the wings are all even in size. If so, those are termite wings. If not, they are carpenter ant wings.

Similarities Between the Two Insects

. Both Swarm in mid-spring once usually once the last frost date passes and almost always following a rain storm.

. Both damage wood. Termites eat wood and tunnel into it to form a colony, the exception is subterranean termites which live in the ground rather than in wood. Carpenter ants do not consume wood. Instead, they remove it and discard it. Their goal is not a meal, but to build a home.

. Both look similar with key differences in the shape of the wings and antenna.

What to do If You Have a Termite or Carpenter Ant Infestation?

The first thing to do is to call a professional exterminator who has experience in dealing with both termites and carpenter ants. The goals are:

. To determine the size of the colony and potential damage.

. To positively identify the pest to species as the treatment options vary from termite to ant.

. To identify any extenuating circumstance that might affect treatment options.

. To identify issues that lead to infestations of either insect.

There are DIY options, however, evaluate those options using caution. One concern is that some states, municipalities, and communities do not allow home treatment for termites. The reason is that chemical treatment is toxic, and professionals receive training so they apply those toxins safely. In short, treatment for termites or ants can lead to health issues for you, your family, and pets. There is also the possibility that a DIY job may not be complete. If you plan to sell your home, you might have to show proof of treatment by a professional. Those are some of the considerations for not going the DIY route.

There is, however, a role for the DIY person in the ongoing treatment of both termites and ants. That is the proactive job of monitoring for the presence of either pest.

DIY Monitoring Programs

There are inexpensive monitoring stations and bait stations that are perfect for use by the DIY person. The goal is not to eradicate an entire colony of termites nor ants. The goal is to monitor for their presence. Given that both insects swarm and divide their colonies each spring, monitoring through spring, summer, and fall is best. Doing so can help homeowners discover pest insects before the form a colony.

Monitoring is a key tool that is very appropriate as a DIY chore, especially when it comes to termites or carpenter ants. There is a ton of cost saving realization when it comes to early detection.

Overview of Termite Families

There are many families of termites the world over. However, in terms of home pest families, we can unscientifically group the most common types of termite families into three groups.

Termite Control Tips

Termite Control Tips

Drywood Termites – Home pests, usually occurring in smaller numbers.

Dampwood Termites – Not a threat to homes as the wood they eat is decaying.

Subterranean Termites – These are the primary pest of homes, outbuilding, and fences.

Termites eat wood dead wood and colonize inside the timer frames of homes. A home is a huge source of dead wood and it provides sheltered from fluctuations in temperatures. The longer a colony of termites infests your home, the large that colony grows. If left unchecked, the colony will eventually grow so large that it will divide. This is one reason why termites swarm.

Overview of Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants are usually red or black, though they are also orange, yellow, brown, and sometimes pale white. So, coloration varies by species and location. For example, the black carpenter ants are what inhabit most of the Eastern U.S. Like termites, carpenter ants are highly social. When they choose a spot for colonization it is often in damaged wood. Carpenter ants prefer to build galleries in wood that is decaying, though damp underside of a house is a perfect site too.

Carpenter ants have a cast system which means that each ant has a specific role. For that reason, carpenter ants within the same colony are not the same size. Cast determines size. Soldier ants are larger than are worker ants. Expect to see a range of sizes with carpenter ants. The smallest are about 3/8 of an inch but workers or soldiers can grow to ½ inch in length.  


Carpenter ants are nocturnal. They do their foraging at night. If you suspect an infestation of carpenter ants, just poke around your home at night with a flashlight.

While both termites and carpenter ants are bad news for homeowners, there is still plenty of options for treatment. It is best to use a professional to eradicate both types of insects. However, there are jobs for the DIY person that  helps reduce the risk of infestation from either insect.

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