Termites vs Flying Ants (Learning the Difference can Save You Big)

FAQs, Ants, Termites

Termites and ants are both fascinating insects that can create impressively organized and productive colonies, however, they can also cause serious property damage when they infest structures where humans live or work.

To get rid of or deter any, it is important to know exactly what species you are dealing with.

What works for eradicating one insect species may produce a very different result when applied to a different insect species. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to distinguish between some insects when they share striking resemblances in appearance to the untrained eye.

This article “Termites Vs Flying Ants”  will teach you to differentiate between flying ants and flying termites based on their physical appearance and characteristics, their behavior, their nest hierarchies, and their interactions with humans.

what termites look like image
Group of worker & soldier termites
swarm of flying ants
Group of flying ant swarmers

What do they look like?

The most obvious physical characteristic to look for when identifying a Termites Vs Flying Ant is the shape of their bodies. All termites have straight waists. This means that there is no obvious difference in size in the middle of their bodies. Ants, however, have a cinched waist, similar to wasps. They get quite thin in the middle where the top and bottom of their bodies meet. Because of their tiny size, it may be hard to tell, but the antennae differ on the two insects.

Read also: Do Termites Have Eyes?

Termite antennae stick straight forward while ant antennae go out sideways and then bend forward. Another potentially distinguishing physical characteristic that may help you distinguish flying termites versus flying ants is their color. Termites can range from white, orange, brown, and black, while most flying ants are black, brown, or red. The termites in the nest that do not reproduce do not have wings. The ones that do reproduce have four wings that are all the same size and are almost twice the size of their bodies. Flying ants also have four wings; however, ant’s wings are large at the front and short at the back. They are also smaller, about the size of the ant’s body.

Behavior 

The behaviors and nest hierarchy also differ in the two insects. Termites are closely related to cockroaches, while ants come from the same family as bees and wasps. Both termites and ants (and some species of bees) start new colonies through the phenomenon of nuptial flight. 

During this event, the young, fertile ants will fly away and find a suitable place for a new nest. Once they find it, they will mate and start a new colony. Although both come from massive nests or colonies, termites have a fertile king and several fertile queens. Ants are more likely to have one fertile queen and several fertile males. Both termite and ant queens have incredibly long life spans. A termite queen can live up to 50 years, while some ant queens can live up to 30.

Development

Termites develop through a process called incomplete metamorphosis. This means they go from egg, to nymph, to worker. After this, some termites develop further into soldiers, then alates (termites with the ability to reproduce) then a very select few further mature into queens. Although research is still ongoing on how the caste system works in an ant colony, the larvae molts directly into what caste the ant will belong to. So a queen or fertile male does not go through several cycles, they are simply born into their caste. There are many different types of both ants and termites. Both are spread throughout the world but thrive in a warm, damp climate.

Winged subterranean termite and worker termites

You might also be interested in my article: How Do Termites Spread?

What Do They Eat?

Both termites and ants are considered pests in some instances by humans. Termites eat dead plant life, which is actually extremely beneficial to the planet; however, they can become a problem for humans when they begin to feast on manmade objects made of wood or other semi-soft materials.

Termites can cause extreme damage to any wooden structure or piece of furniture in a very short time frame. Because termites will eat from the inside out, the damage is often indiscernible until it is too late, as well as ranging from difficult to impossible to repair.

Termites can also cause damage to trees and farmers crops. Termites will even eat paper and cardboard in homes, creating another avenue of damage (If you have a lot of paper and cardboard in your home or garage, you may also be attracting other insects like silverfish).

Ants do not eat wood; however, certain types of winged ants will build a nest in wood which can prove to be equally destructive.

Because of the massive size of their nests, ants can also invade people’s homes, as well as restaurants and hospitals and become a huge nuisance due to the difficulty of getting rid of them and infestation of food and beverage product.

Ants also can be a pest in agriculture. Whether on a farm or in the garden, ants can be a death sentence for plants, even though they don’t eat plants themselves.

Aphids

Ants encourage the presence of aphids on plants. These aphids then feed on sap and secrete a sweet syrup that the ants love to eat. In exchange, the ants protect them. Unfortunately, aphids are considered one of the most destructive plant pests on the planet.

Finally, ants are considered pests to humans because they can deliver a painful bite or sting. Although they are regarded fairly harmless, ant bites are unpleasant and if a yard is infested with them, it can make the space difficult to enjoy for both adults and children alike.

Although somewhat similar in appearance, it is possible to differentiate between termites and flying ants. With a quick visual inspection, an obvious difference in the direction of their antennae the size of their wings and the shape of their bodies is noticeable.

Also, it is important to note that termites have a strong association with cockroaches and ants are related to wasps. Termites mature through incomplete metamorphosis, meaning that they will develop through several stages before reaching their final form. 

Ants, however, develop immediately into one of the different classes within the nest. What’s more, while both can be destructive, termites eat wood while some species of ants nest in it.

Termites do not bite or sting people while different species of both winged and wingless ants do. Finally, while most termites feast on dead plant matter, ants can be extremely damaging to live crops by promoting the presence of aphids.

Related Articles on the Web:

Winged Ant Versus Termite – Iowa State University Horticulture & Home Pest News

Flying Ants and Termite – North Carolina State University

Ants in Home Lawn – PennState Agriculture Department

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