Pest Issues

Termites vs Ants: How to Tell the Difference

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Seeing a crawly creature at your home and not knowing what it is exactly can be very irritating. To the untrained eye, ants and termites can look very similar and be easily mistaken for one another. However, they are two entirely different insects and each of them has its specific traits.

Although both ants and termites are annoying to have around, the former is mostly harmless (except the fire ants), while the latter is considered a huge threat to properties in Australia, since it’s capable of inflicting enormous damage to the integrity of wood structures. That’s why to avoid a growing pest infestation, you have to act quickly and perform the correct extermination treatment. For that, you will first need to know how to tell apart termites and ants.

So, if you:

  • Are wondering about what the difference between termites and ants is;
  • Want to know who the culprits chomping through your woodwork are;
  • Want to learn how to deal with a pest infestation effectively;

Then, keep reading because we have created this article just for you! Here you will find the complete guide on how to identify termites and ants and how to proceed depending on the pest species.

Table of contents:

What are termites?

Termites, also widely known as white ants, are pests that eat cellulose, and are found in wood, paper, cardboard and plants. Many people mistakenly call them “white ants” because they look a lot like regular ants, but are lighter in colour. However, their colouring is not the termites’ only distinctive feature. There are a few more visual differences you can look for in order to distinguish a termite from an ant.

Here are the physical characteristics of the termites found in Australia:

  • Shape – The white ant’s body is elongated, lacking any narrowing in the centre and discernible waist.
  • Colour – Although white ants are known to be light in colour, depending on their lifecycle stage, their colouring can range from pure white to dark brown. For example, the baby termites, known as nymphs, can be transparent or pale white, while the swarmers are usually brown or black.
  • Antennae – Termites have a pair of straight, beaded antennae.
  • Wings – Termites in their reproductive stage are called flying termites or alates. They have four equally-sized wings, which are longer than their body. Once the termites mate, they shed their wings.

Termites can be found in attics, garages, workshops, crawlspaces, and more particularly in wooden cabinets, window sills, skirting boards, subflooring and staircases. However, they are rarely noticed, as they typically hide in their signature mounds, which resemble tunnels constructed of the insects’ faeces, saliva, wood and dirt.

White ants, living in your property, can pose a serious danger to your house’s structural integrity and that is why any sign of an infestation should be taken seriously and acted upon quickly. In fact, termites are considered the biggest pest threat to homeowners in Australia, since they are able to inflict damage that can exceed thousands of dollars to repair.

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What are ants?

Australia is home to many ant species, all of which can pose a certain danger to your home and garden. Nevertheless, the species that is mostly mistaken for termites is the carpenter ant, due to its similar behaviour and the damage it causes to wooden structures. Also, flying ants, no matter the species, can hugely resemble the appearance of the winged termite alates.

To be able to distinguish ant infestation in your home, check below the unique features of the Australian carpenter ant:

  • Shape – The body of the carpenter ant is smooth and elongated with a well-defined, narrow waist. This species is generally seen as smaller than the others, with a body size ranging from 3mm to 12mm.
  • Colour – Carpenter ants are known to have dark coloured bodies, however, their shade of colour can vary from dark orange to black.
  • Antennae – Ants have a pair of bent antennae. They can be slightly elbowed or bent to a 90-degrees angle.
  • Wings – All ant species develop wings and fly when they are in their breeding stage with a few exceptions, which don’t mate this way or form colonies. Similarly to the termites, these winged creatures are also known as alates. Flying ants have 4 wings, where the forewings are a bit longer than the hind ones.

Carpenter ants usually nest in old or damp and decaying wooden structures. They can be found in inner walls, especially those in proximity to bathrooms and kitchens, as well as in window frames and doors.

Although this species is sometimes referred to as “wood-eating ants”, carpenter ants don’t really feed on wood, but rather bore into it. That is why powdery wood particles similar to sawdust are often found around their nests.

While carpenter ants don’t eat wood like termites, by boring into your wooden structure, they can still be a nuisance. However, to save your woodwork and your peace of mind, you can either try some natural methods to get rid of carpenter ants or contact a professional.

How do you tell if it’s a termite or an ant?

The main difference between ants and termites is their behaviour and eating habits. While the former bore through wooden structures to create their nests, the latter feed on wood and by doing so can inflict tremendous damage to houses.

However, the wood-eating habit of termites is not their only distinguishing trait.

To help you know how to tell ants from termites, below we have compiled a handy list of the more key differences that the two pests have:

  • Shape – Although both termites and ants have an elongated shape with three body segments, the white ants don’t have a narrowed, well-defined waist, whilst the regular ants do.
  • Colour – Depending on their lifecycle stage and the function they play in a colony, termites can vary in shades, but they are mostly light-coloured, while ants are on the darker colour scheme.
  • Antennae – Termites and ants alike have antennae, but the termite’s pair is straight and beaded, whereas the antennae of the ants are bent.
  • Wings – Both insects have alate stages, however, all 4 wings of termites are equal in size and appear longer than the termite’s body. On the other hand, the back pair of wings on ants are shorter than the front one.
  • Food – Ants are omnivores and are drawn to food sources, such as food debris left out in the open, pet food and rubbish. In contrast, termites live on cellulose-rich materials, like wood and paper.
  • Lifespan – Termites live longer than ants. While ants have just 4 lifecycle stages and live for a few months, termites have a longer lifespan and can survive for a couple of years.

If, however, you are still not able to identify whether you are dealing with ants or termites, you can always consider resorting to the help of an experienced pest exterminator and have peace of mind.

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Termite vs ant treatment

You have recently discovered an ongoing pest infestation in your house and you’ve been trying to treat it for a while now, only to find the implied methods ineffective. The truth is that pest infestations can be very challenging and even impossible to eliminate on your own. However, this is where professional pest exterminators come handy!

While ants and termites can share a resembling appearance, as we have already proved here, they are entirely different insects and therefore each of them requires a unique removal and treatment approach. Pest control professionals have the required experience and knowledge and will be able to solve your problem quickly and, most importantly, effectively!

Check below to find the steps a professional pest controller will take to help you eradicate an ant or termite infestation:

  1. Inspect your property – The professional will first take a look at your property and the already caused damage, if there is any, to determine the pest species, locate the nest and identify the source causing the infestation.
  2. Pest treatment – Depending on whether you are dealing with ants or termites, the pest controller will decide on the most appropriate extermination approach.
    • Ant treatment – The exterminator will spray an ant control insecticide around the house. Since ants tend to follow established paths, they will walk through the insecticide and bring it to their nest, affecting the queen, as well. Note that this method requires some time to take effect.
    • Termite treatment – Depending on the termite type and infestation stage, the professional will decide on whether to use spray, dust, bait and monitoring stations or the combination of the three. If the termite invasion is on the large side, several visits may be required to fully eradicate the white ants.
  3. Prevention tips – The professional will also be able to advise you on how to pest-proof your property in the future and avoid attracting pests to your house in the first place.

Now that you know what an ant and termite extermination process entails, don’t put off dealing with your house’s pest infestation any longer. Correct identification and immediate reaction are key when it comes down to the complete eradication of destructive creatures.

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  • Termites and ants, especially carpenter ants, can easily be mistaken for one another if a person doesn’t know what to look for and how to distinguish them.
  • Termites have light-coloured bodies with no defined waist, they feed on wood and can cause enormous property damage. On the other hand, carpenter ants are dark-coloured, have narrowed waist and bore into wood, but don’t feed on it.
  • The approach to pest treatment may vary depending on whether you are dealing with an ants infestation or termites. However, a pest controller will know the most suitable extermination method and will be able to eliminate the pests effectively.

Have you faced a pest infestation before? How did you deal with the situation? Feel free to share your experience and thoughts in the comment section below!

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