Carpenter Ant on a wood

News of a termite infestation can send almost any homeowner into a panic. After all, termites are responsible for causing billions of dollars in damages to buildings and crops. Needless to say, termites are an unwelcome addition to any home.

However, it's easy for the average homeowner to mistake another type of wood-loving invader for a termite attack — the carpenter ant. You need to know the difference between these two similar yet significantly different pests so you can know what type of treatment your home needs to eliminate these destructive pests.

Body Shapes

From far away, termites and carpenter ants share surprisingly similar builds, making it difficult for the average homeowner to distinguish between the two. Both insects tend to gather in swarms during the spring to seek out mates, although carpenter ants are more likely to remain outside to forage for food. Termites, on the other hand, avoid light whenever possible.

Upon closer inspection, however, the similarities give way to a number of important differences. Carpenter ants share the same narrow and clearly-defined waist and bent antennae as many other ant varieties. Most carpenter ants have a reddish or black hue, similar to a variety of other ant species.

Termites are sometimes called "white ants," but they're more closely related to cockroaches — a fact that shows when looking at a termite close-up. Termites lack the narrowed waist of their carpenter ant counterparts, instead featuring a broader midsection that narrows slightly toward the head.

Termites also have straighter antennae than carpenter ants. Termites are also pale in color, with soldier termites distinguished by their red heads and worker termites by their pale heads.

Wing Shapes

Both termites and carpenter ants are winged and capable of flight, but their wing shapes and lengths are different. Both have two sets of front and hind wings, but the termite's wings are of equal length, making them more distinguishable from carpenter ants when viewed with the naked eye. The overall length of a termite's wing can also exceed that of its body, resulting in a broad H-shaped wing profile.

In comparison, a carpenter ant's wings are roughly the same length as its body. Carpenter ants also sport front wings that are considerably larger than their hind wings, creating a V-shaped wing profile that's more common to butterflies and other winged insects.

It's worth noting that the only termites that are capable of reproduction are winged, with the soldier and worker termites remaining wingless throughout their lives. However, even the winged termites don't get to keep their wings for long. Once reproducing termites begin to nest, they'll shed their wings as they burrow into their new homes.

Infestation Signs

Termites and carpenter ants also have different approaches toward invading a typical home. Carpenter ants tend to seek out moist wood, especially wood that's been water-damaged or otherwise weakened by moisture. This type of wood is easier for carpenter ants to excavate as they prepare their nests. As a result, carpenter ant tunnels tend to be relatively smooth in appearance.

Meanwhile, termites are a lot less picky about the wood they chew through. Whether it's moist or bone-dry, termites will tunnel through any wood with relative ease. The resulting tunnels created by termites tend to be ragged and sometimes lined with mud and soil. Because termites shun light and crave moisture, termites will also create mud tunnels from the ground to the affected wood structure.

Unlike termites, carpenter ants don't consume the wood they tunnel through. Instead, carpenter ants discard the wood they excavate by pushing it out of their tunnels, resulting in small piles of wood shavings being found just outside the entrance. This makes it slightly easier to spot a carpenter ant infestation.

Damage Severity

Termites and carpenter ants may have significant differences between one another, but they both share the same potential for serious structural damage if left unchecked. Nevertheless, the short-term damage caused by an ongoing carpenter ant infestation is usually less severe than the damage normally caused by termites.

As carpenter ants continue to expand their nesting sites, however, the resulting long-term damage can be just as extensive as a termite infestation.

Control and Prevention

As mentioned before, carpenter ants and termites require different approaches toward control and prevention. A combination of non-repellent insecticides and specially-formulated bait can help control carpenter ant infestations.

If you have termites, on the other hand, you're better off leaving control and prevention to the professionals. Most pest control companies will use a combination of bait systems and careful monitoring to identify active termite colonies and target the queen. Barrier systems help neutralize subterranean termites while preventing new colonies from moving in.

If you're having trouble with carpenter ant or termite infestations, the pros at Blackburn Pest Control can help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for your pest control needs.