I didn’t know flying ants existed until about three days after I found my children dropping Honey Nut Cheerios down one of our air registers. It wasn’t a great revelation. At first, we assumed they were termites. Panic ensued. We had termite specialists out to our house within 24 hours, and they quickly put our fears to rest. Our little (uninvited) friends were flying ants—not the lumber-ravaging creatures we first suspected. If you ever find yourself in a similar creepy, crawly situation, here are a few key differences to help differentiate the two.
Termite Swarmer vs. Carpenter Ant Swarmer Similarities
Both termite and carpenter ants swarm to create a new colony or reproduce. Homeowners frequently mistake the two for one another during their swarm due to their physical similarities. However, their similarities don’t end with their appearance.
Some similarities between termites and carpenter ants are:
- They both cause wood damage in homes because they tunnel and chew on wood.
- They both swarm in the spring to reproduce.
- They both build their nests in dirt and in various structures.
- Both of their queens will outlive the rest of their respective colonies.
- They both have antennas, two pairs of wings, a head, a thorax, and six legs.
Carpenter ants and termites have a huge difference in their lifespans—termites live a lot longer than carpenter ants due to their extended life cycles. A carpenter ant queen can live up to a decade. However, after the males in the colony mate, they usually live for a few more months or even weeks, then die. Ants have four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
Termites have five stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, nymph, molt, and adult. If you thought ant queens could live a long time, you will be astounded to learn that termite queens can live more than 30 years. Worker and soldier termites have a lifespan of around one to two years, and swarmers will live for around three to four years. Unlike the ant males, after termite males mate, they continue to live on with their female counterparts to reproduce. Similarly, ants and termites will both lose their wings after mating. Because termites live substantially longer and the nature of their damage, a termite infestation is a much bigger problem than a carpenter ant infestation.
It’s very easy to mistake a termite for a flying ant, especially when they are flying around. However, if you get a closer look at them, you can tell the difference based on a few critical physical differences.
If you have good eyes you might be able to spot this defining feature from the get-go. Termites have straight antennae, while ant antennae are bent or elbowed. Another defining feature of termite antennae that differentiates them from flying ants are that they are beaded, or they look like they are made of little beads or balls.
One of the biggest physical differences between flying ants and termites is their body shape. Ants have a defined head, thorax, and abdomen, with a pinched-in waist. When you spot a termite, it will look like a little peg with a straight shape.
Both flying ants and termites each have two sets of wings. However, a termite’s wings will be equal in size and shape, while a flying ant’s wings will be unequal in length and look different. Unfortunately, this difference is harder to see with the naked eye, though if you are able to get the bug and study it you’ll be able to see the difference. Additionally, termite swarmers have substantially larger wings than flying ants.
Another difference between the two flying critters is that termites have more fragile wings than flying carpenter ants. One way to tell if you have a termite problem is to look out for their fallen-off wings by their nest.
While the colors of both carpenter ants and termites vary, most of the time their colors are different enough to distinguish from one another. Typically ants are black to dark red. Termites can also be a variety of colors, depending on what their role is. However, worker termites are light-colored and translucent.
Wood, fabric, paper, and even carpet can all be a part of a termite’s well-balanced diet. They leave the crumbs, seeds, and plant nectar to the ants. Ants will also eat other insects crawling around your house. So the sticky Cheerios (as they’re called in my house) that attracted these little flyers, to begin with, were quite the telltale sign. Termites wouldn’t be at all interested. But, what about the carpenter ants? They eat wood, right? Wrong. Carpenter ants make their home in decayed wood but don’t actually eat it. They just chew it up until it has a sawdust-like consistency—yikes.
Controlling Carpenter Ants and Termites
No matter which winged creature you find in your home, it’s vital to control them before they get out of hand. One way to help get rid of carpenter ants is by eliminating the reason they were attracted to your house in the first place. Ants love sweet food, so removing exposed food or sealing it better may be all you need to kick these little guys out of your house. You may need to get a specialist out to your house if the problem doesn’t go away or gets too big to control yourself.
If termites are your problem, you will need to get a termite specialist out to your house right away. Termites can cause a lot of structural damage over time, so it’s crucial to kick them out of your house as soon as possible. If it is apparent that an infestation has occurred, it is important to have your home evaluated for damage and replace the wood damaged.
I’m happy to report that the problem has since been remedied. My family can sleep soundly knowing we are in a flying-ant-free household once more.
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