Ant and termite problems require different types of treatment, so it's important to know which one you're dealing with. Young ants and termites are fairly simple to distinguish, but things get a bit more complicated when these insects mature. Some species of ants and termites can fly, so you'll need to get up close and personal to see the differences between them.

Swarming brown tree ants, Lasius brunneus on wood
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Ants or termites? It's important to learn the difference.

Identifying Termites

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Termites have straight antennae but no clear waistline.

Baby termites hatch from eggs and enter the world looking like small white versions of adult termites. Both eggs and young termites are translucent when viewed under a magnifying glass, but termites darken and become opaque as they age. Unlike ants, worker termites maintain a soft, fleshy body throughout their lives. You aren't likely to see these termites unless you go searching for them, as they spend their days tucked away inside rotting wood and paper. Other termites develop a firmer exterior and wings in order to swarm and reproduce. These are the termites you're likely to see. All termites have straight bodies with no cinching at the waist and straight antennae. Winged termites have four wings, all of which are the same size.

Identifying Ants

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Ants have bent antennae and are skinny in the middle.

Unlike termites, baby ants go through a larval stage after hatching. During this larval stage, ants look much the same as maggots or grubs. After the larval stage, ants go through a pupal phase, during which they look like mature ants with their legs folded tightly against their body. Once mature, ants leave their pupal cocoon fully developed. Ants may or may not have wings, depending on their species and specific role in their colony. When they do have wings, they have four, and the back wings are smaller than the front wings. Ants have a waist, or narrow spot, between their abdomen and thorax and have elbowed antennae.

Behavioral Cues

Although they may look similar, ants and termites do things very differently. If you find wings without an insect attached to them, you are dealing with termites. Termites shed their wings, </ahref="https:>while ants do not.

Termites are frequently found in or near wood, whereas ants could be anywhere. Carpenter ants are the exception to this rule, as they too are often found near wood. There is a difference, however, in the type of damage they cause. Carpenter ants only lay eggs in wood. They leave behind entrance holes and tunnels, but do not typically cause major damage to the structure.

Termites, on the other hand, eat the wood from the inside-out, ruining its structural integrity and causing major damage. Wood that is housing termites may sound hollow when tapped. Some termite species also create mud tunnels that are visible along walls or other structures. The tunnels that carpenter ants bore into wood have a smooth, finished texture, while termites create more jagged, rough openings.

Prevention and Removal

To prevent ants and termites, remove the things that attract them. Keep food in secure, airtight containers, and promptly clean up crumbs and sticky messes to avoid ants. Termites are attracted to rotting wood and organic matter, so keep firewood and mulch away from your home. If trees stumps are near your home, have them removed. Always screen vents and caulk around windows, doors, dryer vents, pipes, and other possible entry points to keep both termites and ants away.

Control any moisture problems by fixing leaks and standing puddles – ants are attracted to the water source, and damp conditions start the decay process that attracts hungry termites. Make sure to keep outdoor wood such as stairs and decking properly painted or sealed to deter insect activity, and make sure the wood doesn't touch the soil.