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What's the difference between carpenter ants and termites?


It is a warm summer’s day, and you notice insects in your home. As each day passes, you see more of them. You could be wondering if they are Carpenter ants or Termites and what to do about these pests.

If you are unsure whether you have Carpenter ants or termites, it is essential to find out if you have Carpenter ants or a termite infestation because these two insects require different types of pest control methods.

In this article, we will discuss how to tell Carpenter ants and termites apart and how you can use DIY pest control for controlling a Carpenter ant infestation and termite problem. Or call a pest control professional to remove the pest infestation. We will also discuss how to prevent further infestation in the future.

Let’s get started!

Subterranean termites and Carpenter ants cause wood damage

Both insects interact with wood in different ways. Carpenter ants prefer to live in wood that has been damaged by water. Carpenter ants are often found in people’s homes that have had leaks or other moisture problems. In the home, Carpenter ants eat wood to build nests, and as they do so, they can cause damage to window sills, crawl spaces, window frames, roofs, and chimneys.

If they forage and find a piece of damaged wood that has been affected by water, they will excavate and create tunnels and galleries for nesting sites and raise their young. In time Carpenter ants can cause significant damage to wood and weaken the structural integrity of your home.

Termites eat wood. It is the termite workers who actually eat wood for the cellulose it contains. Subterranean termites tunnel their way through soft wood. Subterranean termites build underground colonies in the soil. They build mud tubes from their termite galleries to keep themselves moist as they travel to wooden materials.

Dampwood termites tend not to be found indoors. They prefer to eat wood and nest in dead trees, logs, tree stumps, fence posts, and utility poles.

Termites feed twenty-four hours a day, and when termites feed on wood, the termite damage caused can affect the structural integrity of your home if it is not treated with pest control methods urgently.

Carpenter Ant Nests vs. Termite Nests

Both insects build nests. Carpenter ants build nests into decaying wooden material and will move onto sound wood, wall voids, and insulation. Their galleries are smooth and appear to be sanded.

A Termite worker will get into buildings through doorways, basement windows, under siding, porches, and foundations. An entire colony of Drywood termites will build a nest inside the wood. Subterranean termites build nests in the soil underground and travel through mud tubes to find wooden materials to eat.

Physical differences

At a glance, Termites and Carpenter ants look fairly similar. Particularly Carpenter ant swarmers (flying ants, reproductive ants) and termite swarmers. However, there are some differences between these two pests.

Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants tend to be large in size, up to 3/8 to an inch long. Carpenter ants are dark brown to black. Their bodies are covered in fine hair. They have a narrow waist with long slender legs.


Termites tend to be much smaller than Carpenter ants, around 1/8 to 3/8 inch long. A Termite’s body is pale in color, and the waistline is not obvious. Termite wings are shorter than their body.

Body Shape

Take a look at the insects’ body shape: Carpenter ants have a defined waist, whereas termites have a broad waist. Termites have legs the same size as the body. Carpenter ants have much longer, slender legs.

The Difference in Wings of Carpenter ants and Termites

Termites have two sets of wings. They are longer than ant wings. Both sets are the same size. Male and female termites use their wings to fly, swarm, and mate. Male termites die soon after mating. The females lose their wings after they breed and go on to create new colonies.

Carpenter ants have four wings. The hind wings are shorter than the front pair. Carpenter ants use their wings to fly, swarm, mate, and create new colonies.

Carpenter Ants and Termites Antennae

Antennae: Carpenter ants’ antennae are unlike termites antennae; they are elbowed. Termites have straight beaded antennae.

Diet differences

Termites eat wood for the cellulose it contains. Does a Carpenter ant eat wood? No, a Carpenter ant makes its home inside it and does not eat wood. A Carpenter ant will excavate in the wood creating wood shavings as they burrow through it. Unlike termites, a Carpenter ants diet consists of other insects; they are not able to digest cellulose in the wood.

Carpenter Ants Frass vs. Termite Frass

Carpenter ant frass (ant droppings or feces) looks completely different from termite droppings.

Carpenter ant droppings contain dead insects, wood shavings, wood particles, and other pests that they feed on. The Carpenter ant droppings are generally soft and fibrous and vary in size, color, and shape and will be found near their nest.

Termite droppings look like tiny capsules; the color depends on the wood species the termite workers have been eating. The termite droppings are usually near their nest. Subterranean Termites use their frass (fecal pellets) as a building material when they create a mud tube.

Termite and carpenter ant behaviors: damage differences

Carpenter ant damage can take years to be significant; even so, it is still necessary to get rid of Carpenter ants. Termites cause structural damage and must be removed quickly. Subterranean termite damage can make wood look like it is bending, sagging, and crumbling once they have chewed through it.

Habits of termites and carpenter ants

Drywood termites and Dampwood termites swarm and reproduce in the summer and fall. Swarming Eastern subterranean termites occur mainly in the spring.

If there is a colony of Carpenter ants and termites in your home or nearby, you might see the winged swarmers shortly, followed by piles of discarded wings on windowsills, doors, and near lights or outdoors in the yard. The wings are discarded after mating.

Get professional help to tell the difference between ants and termites

We have outlined the key differences between Carpenter ants and termites; however, if you are not sure, still call a pest control expert. They can evaluate the pests and provide a control and pest prevention plan. Pest control experts can also give advice on ways to prevent future infestations in the home and backyard.

Controlling Carpenter Ants

For controlling Carpenter ants, a different approach is needed compared to termite control. Conditions need to be eliminated that have attracted the ants.

Carpenter ant damage can be controlled using baits, insecticides, and traps. To eliminate the ants, you need to find where the nest is. This can be tricky as they often build nests in hard-to-reach places.

Remove moisture problems that are attracting them into your home. Once fixed, they could leave your home.

How to get rid of a termite infestation

You can control these and other insects using insecticides, baits, and traps. You can also get your home protected with a chemical barrier around the foundations of your home. It can be effective for years to come.

Ways to prevent a termite infestation

  • Remove the moisture from the home, ventilate rooms by opening windows, and use a dehumidifier.

  • Repair cracks and crevices that allow all kinds of pests into the home, including ants.

  • Do not water the garden close to the foundations. Avoid using mulch near the foundations.

  • Remove any log piles, tree stumps, and other garden debris away from your home.

  • Set up a pest control plan with an exterminator. They will make inspections on the property and can tell you if there is a pest problem.

And finally,

We discussed ‘What’s the difference between Carpenter ants and termites? We hope you have found it helpful.

If you think you have a problem with pests, call a professional pest control company. They have the knowledge and resources to get rid of an infestation.

Good luck!

Ronald has 25 years of pest control experience under his belt. He scrutinizes each control method, product and process to prevent infestations effectively. 

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