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02 - Are These Termites or Ants?

an image of swarmer termites.

You’ve found large numbers of insects flying about the house, or perhaps you have noticed an accumulation of dead insects on the floor or on a windowsill. Are these termite swarmers or ants? This is an important question.  f they are termite swarmers, it means the building is infested with termites and needs to be professionally treated. Depending on the size of the building, that’s going to cost around a thousand dollars or more. If they are ants, some type of treatment may still be needed, but you may be able to do it yourself, and even if you hire a pest control company, it won’t be nearly as costly.

So how do you distinguish termite swarmers from ant swarmers? This is really pretty easy, but it can help to have some type of magnifying glass or hand lens. This figure shows the three key characteristics to look for: 

a drawing of termite and carpenter ant with the differences shown.

 

How to Distinguish Termite Swarmers from Ant Swarmers

Trait

Termites

Ants

Wings

Front wings and hind wings equal in length

Wings about twice as long as body

(Wings may be missing.)

Front wings notably longer than hind wings

(Wings may be missing)

Antennae

Antennae straight and beadlike

Antennae have a distinct elbow or angle

“Waist”

No waist, abdomen broadly joined to thorax

Narrow waist, abdomen narrowly joined to thorax

Notes:

  1. Termites and ants both shed their wings shortly after swarming, so wings are not always present on swarmers. (Ant workers never have wings.)
  2. Eastern subterranean termite swarmers are black; Formosan termite swarmers are tan to light brown. Ant swarmers also vary in color, ranging from light tan to black, depending on species.


Compare the following pictures of termite swarmers to those of ant swarmers.

Hover and then click on the left or right arrows to progress through the slide show.

  • This is an Eastern subterranean termite swarmer. Note the long wings, with both pairs of equal length, and the straight, beadlike antennae.

    This is an Eastern subterranean termite swarmer. Note the long wings, with both pairs of equal length, and the straight, beadlike antennae.

  • Formosan subterranean termite swarmer.  Note all four wings are equal in length.

    Formosan subterranean termite swarmer. Note all four wings are equal in length.

  • Eastern subterranean termite swarmers after shedding wings.  Note the broad waist and the straight, beadlike antennae.

    Eastern subterranean termite swarmers after shedding wings. Note the broad waist and the straight, beadlike antennae.

  •  Dead eastern subterranean termite swarmers lying on a windowsill.  Note that some have already shed their wings.

     Dead eastern subterranean termite swarmers lying on a windowsill. Note that some have already shed their wings.

  • Accumulation of dead eastern subterranean swarmers on carpet.  These were behind a couch and were discovered when the couch was moved.  The swarm had occurred several weeks earlier, but was not noticed then.

    Accumulation of dead eastern subterranean swarmers on carpet. These were behind a couch and were discovered when the couch was moved. The swarm had occurred several weeks earlier, but was not noticed then.

  • Black carpenter ant swarmer.  Note the narrow waist and that the hind wing is shorter than the forewing.

    Black carpenter ant swarmer. Note the narrow waist and that the hind wing is shorter than the forewing.

  • Chestnut carpenter ant swarmer.  Note the elbowed antennae and narrow waist.

    Chestnut carpenter ant swarmer. Note the elbowed antennae and narrow waist.

     


Dr. Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist
Department of Entomology, Mississippi State University
Phone: 662-325-2960
Email: blake.layton@msstate.edu

 

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Publication Number: P2568

News

Termites swarming on this decaying tree stump are a healthy part of nature, but homeowners must take steps to make sure they do not infest houses. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Linda Breazeale)
Filed Under: Household Insects, Termites, Insects-Pests June 7, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The Mississippi State University Extension Service judged that the most economically important insects in the state should have their own website.

The site, https://extension.msstate.edu/termites, is the go-to place for information on termite biology, identification and control. The site describes the different species of termites found in the state and provides answers to common questions about the pests.

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