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Carpenter Ants Vs. Termites

Often times people get confused in identifying carpenter ants and termites. Both of these insects chew on wood and have the tendency to set off swarmers. Depending on the termite, they even have the color of a carpenter ant.

Here is a handy list of differences between carpenter ants and termites:

Carpenter Ants

  • Most common in our area is the black carpenter ant. However, species in our area may be the color black, reddish-orange, golden, or reddish-orange & black together.
  • Carpenter ants do not actually eat wood as termites do, but bore out wood to create nesting areas.
  • Because carpenter ants are only interested in nesting extensive damage is usually not an issue.
  • Carpenter ants do like moist and softer woods and their presence could indicate water issues (leaks, drainage issues) or decaying wood. This is not to suggest that they wouldn’t find their way into harder woods of a home, business or property.
  • They are often found in window sills, hollow-core doors, wood scraps (in a yard, under a house or porch), porch columns, roofs, and wood in contact with soil. If any of these areas of the house gets significantly more rain (and less sun shine to dry out) then you might have more likelihood of carpenter ants at some point there due to softer wood content.
  • Carpenter ants will feed on the normal things that ants do. Food scraps, aphids, animal remains, other bugs are all part of the carpenter ants diet.
  • If you suspect a carpenter ant nest in or on your home you will see a sawdust proximal to the nesting area. Carpenter ants will chew the wood and spit it out as refuse from the nest. Termite activity on wood will have quite a bit of mess to them (likelyhood of mud tubes) but a carpenter ants nesting area will be quite clean.
  • Remains of bugs, that were once a meal, will also be proximal to a carpenter ants nesting area. Have to throw out the trash somehow we suppose.
  • Carpenter ants have a traditional ant body, with the slim body between the thorax and the abdomen (tail area). Termites will generally be the same width from head to bottom.
  • If you run across a swarm of insects then look at their wings. Carpenter ant swarmers will have unequal sized wings. Termites, on the other hand, will have wings that are equal in length.

So where should you look for carpenter ants?

Unfortunately carpenter ants can be quite hard to find. You can set out some bait/food for them to feed on (syrup, food scrap, dead bugs, etc) and then spot them heading back towards their nesting area. Carpenter ants will go back from a food source to their nest in a straight line. This will give you an idea of where to find that nest. Common areas can be:

  • porch floors, posts, and columns
  • wood in contact with soil (swingsets)
  • firewood piles
  • stumps, logs
  • branches & wires touching house roofs can aid in ants getting to wood roof construction
  • window sills
  • curtain rods (wooden ones & if you feel are indoors)
  • appliances and electrical equipment

Good thing to know is that carpenter ants do not cause the extensive damage that termites can. Their damage is generally isolated to their nesting area. However, ignoring them can prove to be long term problem. If you do find carpenter ants in your home understand that they might not actually be present in your home. Often times they are nesting outside somewhere and finding their way into your home for food sources. You can clean up the kitchen area, put food in plastic containers, clean pet food bowls and other such sources to help deter them from coming into the house again.

Carpenter Ants Vs. Termites