Termites vs. Ants: 4 Key Differences You Need to Know

Carrie Circosta
Written by Carrie Circosta
Updated July 7, 2022
The exterior of an upscale house with a front lawn
Photo: Marje / E+ / Getty Images


  • Termites only eat wood.

  • Ants are attracted to moisture and sweets.

  • Body shape, antennae, and wings are crucial identifiers.

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No one likes an uninvited guest to show up—especially when it’s a pest like termites or ants. But knowing the key differences between the two means you can quickly and easily treat the areas and evict the unwelcome visitors from your home.

What to Know About Termites

A wood board eaten by termites
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Unfortunately, many homeowners have to deal with termites. On average, these pests cause billions of dollars in damage every single year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Being able to identify a potential termite issue and following preventative measures is critical to keeping your home and your wallet safe.

These pests are destructive because they survive by feeding on the cellulose found in wood. Termite colonies are underground, so you might start to see mud tubes—a telltale sign you have termites—leading up to your home. Workers use these tubes to carry the food back to the colony, turning your house into their 24-hour buffet. 

And termites only need 1/32 of an inch opening to enter your home. So, as your house naturally settles over time, it could create points of entry. This is why prevention and treatment are important, to ensure you minimize damage and make your home as unappetizing for termites as possible.

How to Prevent a Termite Invasion 

The good news is that there are some easy-to-follow tips for preventing termite invasions. Conduct routine inspections to look for mud tubes and bubbled paint and have alocal termite control professional install bait stations above or underground. You’ll also want to fill in foundation cracks and use termite-resistant mulch to help keep these pests at bay.

What to Know About Ants

Close-up of an ant
Photo: Roy JAMES Shakespeare / Photodisc / Getty Images

Ants are one of the most common pests in the world. According to The National Wildlife Federation, ants are located everywhere in the world, except for Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, and some island nations. 

While most people consider ants a nuisance, they can certainly cause issues if left untreated.

For example, some ants can cause damage to your home. While they don't eat wood, carpenter ants are known for carving out tunnels and nests in wooden structures around the house. This can cause significant amounts of costly damage. 

And several species of ants do bite and won't hold back from chomping on humans. For example, fire ants, harvester ants, and carpenter ants pack powerful, stinging bites. Like other pests, they usually bite when they feel threatened or while defending their colonies. 

Like termites, worker ants are responsible for bringing food back to the colony. Once they find food, ants leave an invisible trail that helps guide other ants to the source. This means once there is one ant in the kitchen, there will likely be several more not too far behind. 

How to Prevent an Ant Invasion

The main reason ants enter the home is that they detect a food or water source. Ants will eat almost anything, so starches, fruits, meat, candies, and anything else is fair game. 

To help prevent ants in your home, keep surfaces clean, seal entry points, fix leaks quickly, and keep trash cans closed. If you aren’t sure how ants are getting in, hire a local pest control inspection pro to identify and treat areas of entry.

Termites vs. Ants: What Are the Key Differences?

Illustration depicting differences between ants and termites, such as antennae, body shape, wings, and diets.

While it's apparent that termites and ants are different kinds of insects, it can be difficult to tell them apart because they share similar characteristics. 

Knowing the critical differences between termites and ants is vital to determining the best course of action to protect your home and family. 

Here are the four key differences to tell termites apart from ants.

1. Antennae 

The first vital characteristic to observe is the antennae. While ants have bent antennae, termites have straight. 

2. Body Shape 

Next, if you're able to observe a termite up close, you'll see that, while they have three body segments, they don't have a thin waist like an ant. Instead, an ant has three distinguishable round body segments thanks to its well-defined waistline. 

3. Wings 

Wings are the main reason people often confuse termites and ants. Reproductive ants have wings because they will fly away from the current colony to start a new one.

Additionally, if people see termites, it’s most likely winged termites, also known as swarmers. Other termites, such as workers, are always busy carrying food back to the colony through mud tubes, so they are hardly ever seen. 

If you have a flying pest, how do you know if it’s a termite or an ant? 

Termites have four wings that are equal in size and are much longer than the shape of their bodies. Ants also have four wings, but they have a set of back hind wings shorter than the front forewings. 

In other words, if you see a pest with long, even-length wings, it's most likely a termite. If it's a pest with a set of uneven wings, it's most likely an ant.

4. Diets and Visibility 

Wood and paper products attract termites because of the nutrient-rich cellulose they need to survive. On the other hand, ants do not eat wood but are attracted to moisture and sweets. 

Termites usually get comfortable in drywall, attics, crawl spaces, decks, porch steps, and support beams. However, ants prefer kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms because they’re attracted to sweets and water.

Now that you know how to identify termites versus ants, you can prepare your plan of attack. The earlier you get started, the better. But it’s never too late to take your house back. Whether you hire a termite company or perform DIY pest control, the right treatment will send those pests packing in no time.

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