Subterranean termites are a major pest in the United States, causing more property damage to homeowners than windstorms and fires combined, according to the Texas Agricultural Extension Service of Texas A&M University. Termites eat wood, which is a beneficial property when confined to natural settings, but not so good when it involves a home. Several types of insects that look like termites can infest a home and cause wood damage, but the treatment for termites and other harmful insects may be quite different.

Termites in natural settings can be beneficial.

Winged Ants

Some varieties of reproductive male and female termites may have wings and are sometimes referred to as swarmers, because of their tendency to swarm. Certain species of flying ants are sometimes mistaken for termites, but upon closer inspection there are some distinct differences between these two types of insects. Both termites and flying ants have four wings, according to The wings on a termite are of equal length, while a flying ant's wings will be of different lengths. The antennae on termites extends straight out, while the flying ant's antennae are bent. Flying ants have the classic insect, three-part body configuration of head, abdomen and thorax. The abdomen on termites is much less distinct and appears to be part of the thorax.

Old house borers

Tunnels, or holes in the soft wood structure of a home, such as pine used for framing, may indicate the presence of termites, but these tunnels may be caused by old house borers. These insects are a type of beetle. The adult does not cause wood damage. Wood damage is caused by the insect during its larva stage, which can last for several years, according to They are usually less destructive than termites, but can still do major damage to the structure of a home. One common distinction between old house borers and termites is, you can actually hear old house borers chomping on the wood from several feet away, while termites do their damage in silence.

Powder Post Beetles

The larva of powder post beetles create tunnels in wood and leave behind little piles of powder-like sawdust, much like termites or old house borers, but these insects tend to prefer hardwoods such as hickory, oak and mahogany, or tropical hardwoods like bamboo, rather than common framing wood like pine. Damage caused by powder post beetles is usually found around door and window frames, in hardwood floors and in furniture. According to the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky, the adults live only a short time and are only active at night, so homeowners are more likely to see the damage, rather than the beetle itself.