Termites Versus Flying Ants

March 22, 2016

Termites and flying ants are often confused for one another due to the fact that they both travel in swarms and have similar physical characteristics. It is important to recognize the differences, as depending on the pest, there are different methods of extermination. There are several important distinctions between ants and termites. In a panic, the two are often mistaken for each other, as they may congregate similarly and even look similar at a quick glance. However, there are many important differences. Termites tend to swarm in the beginning of spring, whereas flying ants are more sporadic with their swarming times.

Swarm of Termites and Flying Ants in sky

A good way to determine an insect’s species is to simply take look at the wings. The wings provide as a marker of individuality for species. Firstly, winged ants have a different body shape than termites. Firstly, termites generally have two straight antennas, wings that lay straight out, and a straight body and waist. Ants, on the other hand, have antennae that are curved or bent, unequal wing length, and a waist that is "pinched," or resemble more of an hour glass shape. Those are the main differences, although both termites and ants have different species within their subgroups. Termites also have wings that are nearly twice the size of their bodies, whereas ants have wings that are significantly smaller. Both insects however have four wings, which can cause some confusion. Termite wings also are much more fragile than ant wings. Termite wings will break just with a light touch, whereas ant wings do not break as easier. Finally, ants often have a small black circle on the front and top of their wings, which is a vein. This is not something you can see on termites with the naked eye.

Ants in general have a pretty standard body shape, regardless of which sub-species of ant. Ants tend to have three major body parts: the head, the abdomen and the thorax sections. Termites typically have a head and a long body, whereas ants are more sectioned off.

Physiologically, ants and termites go through different physiological phases throughout their life cycles. Termites gradually change over time, going through a slow metamorphosis. First, termites start out in eggs, moving into a "nymph" stage and then into various adult stages. Ants have a slightly different life cycle, going from an egg, to larvae, to a pupa stage, and finally to an adult stage.

There are several different types of flying ants; one prevalent type is the Carpenter Ant, which remains to be one of the biggest pest ants for households in parts of the United States. These ants cause serious damage to wood, which they hollow out to create nests in. Despite contrary belief, these ants do not actually eat the wood, but large groups of these ants can certainly destroy it to make room for their colonies. The Carpenter Ant has several different types, including the worker ant, the swarmer, and the queen. The worker Carpenter Ant is perhaps the easiest to recognize, as it is wingless, is usually (but not always) black in color, and anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in total length. As mentioned earlier, The Carpenter Ant has a very round thorax, a triangular part of the body under between the abdomen and the thorax. A colony of carpenter ants may have up to 10,000 singular ants in it, and only about 10-15% of the group is out hunting for food. Carpenter ants are extremely active in the early spring up until fall months. The Carpenter ants that are commonly mistaken for termites are the “swarmers,” the ants that have wings and reproduce. The purpose of these swarmers is to mate or lay eggs, depending on the sex. 

Termites, like ants, have different classes or roles that individuals fulfill. For termites, these roles include reproductive, workers and the soldiers. The reproductive tend to be the winged termites, which we often see, and they tend to be brown, black or pale red in color. A reproductive “queen” and “king” can live anywhere from 15 to 25 years. Likewise with termites and ants, both have a class called the “workers,” which are wingless and mainly white. These workers are given the job to feed the colony. Finally, soldiers are wingless and have the job duty of protecting the colony against rival insects and other predators. A queen reproductive termite can lay up thousands of eggs each year, which is perhaps why termites seem to multiply exponentially. After laying the eggs, the worker termites are the ones that will nurture the eggs. Termite colonies also tend to be much larger than Carpenter ant colonies. Termites can have anywhere from 50,000 to 2,000,000 individuals. Swarmers, the reproductive termites, have the pure purpose of expanding their community via reproduction, whereas perhaps a more problematic class of termites is the worker termite. The worker termite is the group that actually causes the extensive damage to houses and other structures. A person should not jump to panic if he or she sees just one termite in a house or outside of a house. Sometimes the wind or some other circumstance may have caused the one termite to enter the house. Likewise with the outside of the house: seeing a termite outside does not equate to one’s house being infested with termites. However, seeing a swarm of either flying ants or termites is something that should be definitely addressed by a professional.

Call Alliance Pest Services for all your termite and wood destroying pest issues. Termite control in Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Middlesex and Bergen County. Complete termite treatments, monitoring systems and termite damage wood repairs. 

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