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Carpenter Ant or Termite? Know What They Look Like

Carpenter ants and termites are similar in several ways. They can be about the same size and damage buildings because they burrow into wood. Both types of insects also swarm to mate during the spring. After taking a closer look, however, you can see that they differ significantly.

Carpenter Ants

As one of the largest types of ants in the United States, carpenter ants measure 0.13 to 0.5 inches long. Most species are black, while others can be red, yellow, light or dark brown, or orange. Some species are even black and red. The large mandibles that the workers have are another way to identify these insects. However, they're most identifiable by their cinched waist, bent antennae and longer front wings.

Decayed wood is the preferred nesting material for all carpenter ants. Nests that remain active for years can cause severe damage. One colony can spread to satellite colonies nearby. Following the worker ants' trails can lead you to their nests. The tunnels will be clean and smooth with slit-like openings that often have small piles of wood shavings below. Rather than eat the wood, the ants chew through it to build their nests and push the shavings out of the tunnels via the openings.


There are more than 40 species of termites in the country, and most of them look similar despite having distinct traits. They're 0.25 to 0.5 inches long on average, but the kings and queens can grow to more than 1 inch long. Their colors range from light brown to white, and the workers are typically lighter than the swarmers. The most identifiable characteristics that they have are straight waists and antennae. The flying or reproductive termites also have two pairs of wings of the same length. Unfortunate for them, their wings easily fall off.

Most termite species aren't too particular about the wood that they eat. However, drywood termites prefer dry wood, while dampwood termites prefer decaying, moist wood. Subterranean termites are more attracted to softwood such as fir, pine and spruce. The tunnels that termites make to build their colonies are often rough because they contain layers of mud and soil.

The frass or waste that termites leave behind is also very different from carpenter ants. Drywood and dampwood termite waste changes color depending on the type of wood that they eat. It looks like a small mound of salt or pepper near the nest. The pellets have rounded ends with six sides and measure about 1 millimeter long. While these termites push out the waste to keep their nests clean, subterranean termites combine the frass with dirt and saliva. Then, they use the material to help build their tunnels.

How to Eliminate Wood-Damaging Pests

Whether you have a carpenter ant or termite infestation, the only surefire way to eliminate the problem is to call a pest control service. Midwestern Pest Control uses economical and environmentally friendly techniques to remove and prevent infestations, so contact us today!

We proudly serve St. Louis County as well as a number of other counties within Missouri and Illinois. Check out our service area today to see if we can help!

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