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Difference between Termite and Carpenter Ant

Termites and carpenter ants both are small, dark, swarming insects that attack wood and look alike from outside. People often confuse these two insects due to their similar appearance. Let us study these two insects more closely to better understand how they differ from each other!


Termites are swarming insects that are found all over the world. They are characterized by a more rectangular body with broad waist or without a prominent narrowing in the centre. They have beaded and straight antennae and have four wings of equal size and shape.

They feed on wood, decaying plant matter, soil etc. They are social insects so they live in colonies and there can be hundreds to several million termites in a colony. A colony of termites generally has three castes of termites. The members of each caste look different from the members of other castes and have a specific role to play in the colony. The castes of termites include workers, soldiers and reproductives:

  • Workers: The workers are sterile adults that eat the wood. They are the most common termites that generally appear when you break open a piece of infested wood. They feed the immature termites, soldiers and sometimes they also feed the reproductives. They also take care of the eggs and immature termites and build or repair the nest.
  • Soldiers: The soldiers are characterized by large heads with big jaws or mandibles. The mandibles are used to fight off the fire ants and other enemies.
  • Reproductives: They are basically of two types: primary and secondary reproductives. The primary reproductives are the original pairs of termites (king and queen) that start the colony. They shed their wings before producing eggs. The secondary reproductives are supplemental queens that produce eggs if the primary reproductive is not able to produce the required number of eggs or they die.

Carpenter Ants:

Carpenters insects are found all over the world. They can measure from 0.6 to 1.3 cm in length and are most active during the night. They are characterized by their well-defined narrow waist and elbowed antennae. They have four wings with the fore wings larger than the hind wings.

They make their home in dead, damp and decaying wood. They make tunnel called galleries in the wood. They do not eat wood but cut through it to make their nest or to expand the size of their nest. During spring, they produce swarmers, which are reproductive winged carpenter ants, to produce a new colony. They are omnivorous as they can feed on live or dead insects, honeydew, sugar, jelly and other types of sweets.

They are social insects and live in colonies. Their colonies have different castes that generally include a queen, the queen's brood and workers and males and there can be 3000 to 100000 adult ants in a colony.

Based on the above information, some of the key differences between termite and carpenter ant are as follows:

Termite Carpenter Ant
Termites eat wood as they need cellulose in order to survive. Carpenter ants do not eat wood. Their diet mainly comprises sugars and proteins.
They have broad waists and two segments in their bodies. They have narrow waists and three distinct body segments.
Their antennae look like little beads or balls. Their antennae are segmented and are elbowed.
They have two sets of wings and all wings are of the same size. They have two sets of wings with the forewings are larger than hind wings.
Their wings are twice as long as their body. Their wings are around equal to their body.
They have paddle-shaped wings. Their wings are pointed.
They undergo a gradual metamorphosis that includes the stages of egg, nymph and adult. They undergo the complete metamorphosis that includes four stages: egg, larvae, pupa and adult.
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