It is a major investment when you buy a home, so it is crucial to understand anything that could be a threat to that investment. Lots of pests can get into a home, but the ones that pose the greatest threat to your equity are termites and carpenter ants. However, these two insects do not pose an equal threat. Carpenter ants cost United States property owners millions of dollars in repairs every year, but termite repair costs are in the billions. So, when you have one of these pests attacking your home, it is very important to know one from the other.
What These Pests Look Like
Carpenter ants as well as termites produce swarmers when a nest becomes mature. These are winged reproductives that will go out in search of a new location to build a new nest. Here are ways you can tell the difference between the two insects.
Both carpenter ants and termites have two sets of wings, but there are two distinct differences that distinguish them.
Termite wings are much larger than their bodies. If you look at one from above, the wings are ⅔ larger than the body of the termite. Carpenter ant wings, however, are only a tiny bit longer than the body of the ant. There is a slight overlap near its tail, but it isn't very noticeable.
Though it looks like termites have only one wing, they actually have four. This is because termite swarmer wings stack one on top of the other. Carpenter ant wings stack in pairs, so they do not appear as one wing when you look closely.
Carpenter ants and termites are both in the classification of insect. This means that they have three body parts, the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. The following are some ways these two insects are different.
Even though termites appear to have only two body segments, they actually have three, the same as all insects. The abdomen and thorax appear as one segment. If the insect swarmer you are looking at appears to only have two segments, the head and the body, you are probably looking at a termite. If it has three distinct body parts, like an ant, it is most likely an ant.
Termite swarms are black only. However, quite often, carpenter ant swarmers have a reddish color to their usual black coloring. But this isn't always so.
Carpenter ants and termites are also a different size. A typical carpenter ant swarmer is from ¼ to ½ an inch long. Termites are much smaller, ranging from ⅛ to ¼ of an inch.
Both of these creatures have two antennae, but they are visually different.
Carpenter ant antennae are bent like bicycle handlebars. Termite antennae are straight.
If you look very closely at the antennae of the insect you've found, termite antennae appear to be many tiny balls stacked upon each other. Carpenter ant antennae appear more like thin stems, just like their legs.
When looking at swarmers crawling on your exterior walls, in your yard, or anywhere else, here are some other ways to tell termites from carpenter ants.
Whether or not they are carpenter ants or termites, all lose their wings during the swarming and mating process. However, you can immediately distinguish carpenter ants when you find swarmers crawling around with wingless ants.
If the swarmers are termites, they burrow into soil and wood. You will rarely see them walking around exposed to the air and sunshine.
Although termites are definitely more destructive than carpenter ants, it is always wise to have a professional do an inspection on your property if you see either of these insects. Swarmers are an indication that there is a mature nest nearby. This nest could be outside, or it could be in the walls of another house, but it also could be inside your home.