You’ve noticed an increase in the number of insects crawling around your property. At first, you thought they were all ants, and you’ve taken steps to repel them. But now you’re starting to wonder if they’re something else. A neighbor recently called a pest control company to eradicate termites. Maybe some of those have moved into your home. How can you know for sure? What is the difference between ants and termites? Aren’t they about the same? Keep reading for the answers to your questions.
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What Is the Difference
People often don’t distinguish between ants, termites, and other insects. They do whatever they can to eradicate every kind of bug they see. Insects bite, sting, destroy gardens, and often make life miserable for humans.
As well as causing you physical discomfort, most bugs think it’s okay to invade your home. Some of them carry disease. Many contaminate your food. Ants and termites are no different from other insects when it comes to how much they’re universally disliked by homeowners. Ants and termites, however, are significantly different from each other.
They Aren’t All Bad
No one wants termites on or around their property. Termites have earned their reputation as destroyers. Despite that, termites provide a benefit to humankind and Planet Earth.
For starters, termites are tasty and nutritious to eat. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein. Termites are an essential part of their diet for people in some countries.
Of importance to all citizens of the world is the termite’s ability to improve the soil.
They do this by:
- Chewing up dead trees and plants – that puts nutrients back into the soil and makes it more fertile.
- Aerating the soil – that allows water and nutrients to reach the roots of trees and plants.
- Waste removal – by consuming dead or decaying trees and plants, they keep rotted vegetation from overwhelming the Earth.
- Chewing and pooping – the act of eating and digesting provides saliva and feces that serve as fertilizer.
The environment would be completely different without termites.
The same can be said for ants. They provide many benefits to the environment and welfare of humans.They:
- Pollinate plants,
- Eat other bugs,
- Aerate and fertilize soil.
Ants also spread plant seeds.
On the Other Hand
Termites eat cellulose. Cellulose is a fibrous component of wood, paper, cardboard, and other products that you don’t want eaten. Things you especially don’t want destroyed are the structures in which you live, play, and work. These structures almost all use wood in their construction, and that’s a termite’s favorite food.
That means you do whatever you can to get rid of the pests.
Several conditions can make eliminating termites difficult, including:
- Termites nest inside your structure so you may not know they’re around until extensive damage has occurred.
- A termite invasion can include millions of individuals, and it’s hard to know that you’ve eliminated every single one of them.
- Termites and ants look alike to most people, but ant killers are ineffective on termites.
You can call an exterminator, but that can be unnecessarily expensive if all you have are ants.
How To Tell The Difference
Ants and termites can both crawl and fly. Whether they’re on the ground or in the air, it’s not that easy to know which is which. You need to capture one, without squashing it, and look at it closely to know.
You’ll spot these differences in appearance:
- Color – termites are naturally white or light colored. If they’ve eaten a lot of very dark wood, their bodies may look a little darker. Flying termites often are black. Ants have a range of colors, but most are red, black, or brown.
- Antennae – termites have straight antennae. The antennae on ants are bent or elbowed.
- Waist – the waist on a termite is thick or wide. Ants have narrow waists.
- Wings – termites and ants both have wings during their flying cycle. Termites have four long wings of equal size. Ants also have four wings, but their wings are shorter. The back pair of wings is shorter than the front pair.
You can learn here how to get rid of flying ants once you know your pests aren’t termites.
Other Significant Differences
The ant most mistaken for a termite is the carpenter ant. That’s because they’re both found in wood. Carpenter ants tunnel through wood to make their nests. They don’t eat the wood, and you can find debris outside their nests.
Although they aren’t eating the wood itself, carpenter ants can create almost as much damage to a structure as termites do. They prefer wet and decaying wood, so they’re attracted to any part of your home with a water leak. Termites eat any kind of wood, and they’ll even chew up brand-new wood in your home.
Most ants are out and about during daylight hours, usually searching for food. Carpenter ants are one of the few nocturnal ants, but you’ll still spot them out foraging. Other than when they’re swarming during the mating cycle, you’ll rarely see termites. They avoid the light, and since they eat where they live, they rarely forage for food.
If you spot a mud tube, then you now have or have had termites. They construct tunnels made of mud outside of your walls. A mud tube is about the diameter of a pencil and is formed from mud and tiny pieces of wood.
How To Identify Termites
There are three primary types of termites, based on where they live. These include:
- Subterranean termites live in the soil and build huge nests. They construct mud tubes from the nest to their food, which is often the framework of your home. They are widespread in the States and create the most damage to homes.
- Drywood termites live in both dead wood and new wood. The only reason they can cause less damage than their subterranean cousins is because their colonies are smaller.
- Dampwood termites, as their name implies, live in wood with a high moisture content. They are rarely found in homes as that wood tends to be too dry for them.
You usually have to use different means of eradication for each type.
Termite Colony Organization
A termite colony operates on a class system with clearly defined roles.
The three classes are:
- Soldier termites: their role is to protect the colony, often with their lives. They must be fed by the worker termites as their heads and jaws are too big for them to feed themselves.
- Worker termites: their role is to feed the colony. Worker termites are the ones who chew up your house.
- Winged termites: their role is to mate each spring and start new colonies. After mating, their wings drop off.
Members of each class may be either male or female.
How to Identify Ants
Ants and termites are both social creatures that live in colonies, but the similarities end there. Ants must forage for their food, and you’ll see a line of them traveling from the food source to their nests. When you want to get rid of ants, usually disturbing the trail with something like vinegar that has a strong odor makes them move away. There are more tips on how to get rid of ants in your house in this article.
Most ants prefer sugary food, but some prefer grease or protein meals. Whatever the food is, ants will carry it back to the nest. Ants have the ability to lift many times their own weight and are able to climb over most obstacles. They also can move quickly. You can learn here how to get rid of red ants before they get inside your home.
Ant Colony Organization
Like termites, ants in a colony are divided into classes with defined roles.
Ants have four classes:
- Worker ants: they forage for food and care for other members of the colony. They are the smallest ants in the colony.
- Soldier ants: they are large and have strong jaws. They protect the colony, but their jaws are primarily meant to cut and transport objects. Not every colony has soldier ants.
- Flying ants: they leave the nest each summer to mate and start a new colony.
- Winged drone: they fly off to reproduce. They die after mating.
The winged drone is the only male in an ant colony. All the others are females.
Images of Ants and Termites
Although written descriptions are good, it’s much easier to identify termites and ants by looking at pictures of each. This section includes a collection of images that will help you determine which of the crawling and flying pests have invaded your yard and home.
How Do I Distinguish Between White Ants and Termites?
There isn’t any difference between white ants and termites. That’s because white ant is a nickname for termites. To the untrained eye, ants and termites look enough alike that a crawling white insect looks like an ant.
Ants, however, don’t come in white. And a closer inspection of the primary body parts confirms that the so-called white ant is really a termite. That’s important to know, because the termite is on its way to eat you out of house and home, which not what an ant would do.
Do Ants Eat Termites?
Termites do have enemies other than human. Birds like them, as do other insects. Ants can get into a termite colony, kill the inhabitants, and set up housekeeping in the abandoned quarters. If you don’t mind ants, you’ll potentially have far fewer termites.
Fewer doesn’t always equal none. Termite soldiers have adapted their jaws and heads to defend themselves against ants. Despite that, ants and termites are not evenly matched, and more termites than ants die when they battle. Nevertheless, you still need more than ants to completely rid yourself of termites.
Except for carpenter ants, ants are more beneficial than destructive, even when they invade your property. It isn’t that difficult most of the time to repel them rather than kill them. Termites are different because they’re beneficial only when they are far away. You can apply chemicals that repel them, but generally you’ll want to completely eradicate a termite infestation.
You can find further details of Ants Control here.