How to Identify Termites

There are physical differences between ants and termites, but they are also at first glance similar in fact in some areas termites are called "white ants". However, their similarities to ants are only as far as the fact that they both have organized social colonies, the termite is in fact a member of the cockroach or roach family.

Most termites are white or translucent and they are so pale that you should be able to clearly identify food present in their stomachs. There is a winged termite which is darker, but ants can be any color, they are brown, dark red, green or black.

Physically they are not the same shape. Termites and ants both have six legs, but the termites legs are short and stubby compared to their body length whilst ants’ legs are fairly long. The body of a termite is also stocky and without any indentation, but an ant has a characteristic tapered waist. Both termites and ants can have wings, and both flying varieties have four legs.

However the difference in their wing span makes them easy to differentiate. The wings on a termite are twice as long as the body, whilst ants are of equal length to the body. The wings on a termite are all the same shape and size whilst the back two wings on an ant are smaller than the front pair. Ants have eyes which are a distinguishing characteristic, but the majority of termites do not have eyes, the exceptions are the winged termites, they always have eyes. Another head difference is the shape of the antennae the antennae on a termite are straight whilst there is a kink in ants’ antennae. The ants’ antennae have long segments and they are short and stubby on a termite resembling a rope of pearls. The body of an ant is harder than the soft termite body.

Ants generally do not hide away they move in clear trails in daylight. First of all they send a few ants out to seek out a food source and once one has been located and they then send out hundreds if not thousands of ants to bring the food back to the nest. This trail can be an inch wide, but it is never secretive it can be clearly observed. On the other hand a termite is stealthier, and rarely shows itself. They do venture out when they are building their nests or sending out swarmers, otherwise they tend to live in dark hidden nests. They hide behind a wooden façade that they do not eat so you cannot see the infestation. A giveaway can be small hard fecal pellets, but only the dry wood termites leave pellets subterranean termites have liquid feces.

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By Frank Reece. Page last modified Nov. 10, 2008.

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