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Residential Pest Control: Termites vs. Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants invading a kitchen Carpenter ants and termites have a lot more in common than most people would think – especially when it comes to pest control. Termites and carpenter ants are, in fact, responsible for a large chunk of residential pest control house calls each year. This is because both are wood destroyers, and wood damage remains the number-one complaint by homeowners in regards to pests.

Indeed, 90 percent of homes in the United States are built with wood framing. As any local pest control company will tell you, termites and carpenter ants will destroy the wood and interior of your home if left unchecked, causing expensive-to-fix damage and even threatening the stability of your home. Both pests cause billions of dollars each year in wood damage and can only be eliminated via expert pest control – ants and termites are both skilled at hiding their presence within a home.

Not only do these pests both love wood, but they are also similar in appearance, with bulbous chitin shells and, in some cases, small wings; many a homeowner has mistaken carpenter ants for termites. Despite their similarities, however, there are basic differences between termites and carpenter ants. By knowing these differences, you will have a better idea of what to look out for when it comes to residential pest control.

Physical Features

For starters, one main difference between termites and carpenter ants is the body shape. Termites have a head and a thorax; whereas ants have a head, thorax and abdomen (a quick internet image search for “termite thorax” will make clear the difference). Termite wings are usually much longer than ant wings – about double the length of the termite body, while ant wings are only slightly longer than the ant body.

Homeowners who suspect an infestation but aren’t sure which pest is the culprit can bring a specimen to a local pest control company for identification. In either case, residential pest control experts advise prompt action to minimize damage and curb the infestation as quickly as possible.


Both termites and carpenter ants will munch on the wood in your home. The difference is that wood is a source of nutrition for termites. Carpenter ants, however, cannot digest wood cellulose; they burrow into wood to create a shelter where they can nest.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to pest control: Termites and ants both need access to water and will thrive in a moist environment. Indeed, carpenter ants cannot eat solid foods – they depend on moisture to make small bits of food edible. One residential pest control tactic to deter both pests is to eliminate food and water sources and keep the air in your home dry.


As for the colonies themselves, both termites and ants can and will live inside the wood in your home. They will chew away at inside of your wood beams until they become hollow and begin to show surface damage. Carpenter ants tend to prefer already molding or rotting wood, which provides the perfect conditions for a colony: dark and humid, with insulated moisture. Termites, on the other hand, prefer to shelter in mud mounds, above or below ground. Of course, they will make do with whatever they can find, including the wooden infrastructure within your home. If you find any signs of a termite or carpenter ant nest, call a local pest control company right away to schedule a full inspection.


Another way you can tell termites and carpenter ants apart is by inspecting the damaged wood. To the trained eye of an expert in pest control, ants are meticulously clean, leaving their hollowed-out wood virtually spotless (except for larvae). All insect remains and wood chippings will be removed from the nest. Thus, a sure sign of carpenter ants is the presence of little sawdust-like piles near damaged wood.

Within termite-damaged wood, you’ll find lots of remains, insect parts and mud. Termites travel through mud tubes within the wood in order to move food to and fro. So termite-damaged wood will be much messier and have a more rugged look.

With all that said, the only sure way to properly identify an infestation is to bring in a local pest control company. But knowing what to look for and how to tell these two pests apart can help homeowners become more proactive about residential pest control. After all, the long-term value of your home is at stake!

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