Know Your Pests: Termites vs. Carpenter Ants

It can be hard to identify insects as they fly overhead, and even harder when they keep to the dark recesses of your home. If you notice damage to your home or business, knowing what kind of pest is causing it makes all the difference. Both carpenter ants and termites can cause damage to structures by eating away at wood, but there are some key identifiers to help determine which is causing you problems.

Bodily Characteristics

Termite CarpenterAnt


  • 4 paddle wings – Same length, longer than body, break off easy
  • One width through body – broad waist, 2 segments
  • Straight or slight curve antennae

Carpenter Ants

  • 4 pointed wings – 2 long, 2 short, Veining Visible
  • Segmented Body – Slender Waist, 3 Segments
  • Bent/Elbow Antennae

Infestation Characteristics


  • Tunnels – Termite tunnels are textured and dirty – they eat the wood as they burrow, leaving tunnels uneven and littered.
  • Fecal Matter – Termites primary food source is food, which means as they burrow they also defecate. Their small pellet shaped droppings often line the insides and entrances of their tunnels.
  • Season – Unlike carpenter ants, whose colonies are usually outside the home, termites colonies are generally within the warm cozy walls of your structure, or below the frost line. They are active throughout the year, but are more noticeable during the spring and summer when they swarm.
  • Indoor vs. Outdoor – Termites can reside in both indoor and outdoor colonies. Mud tunnels, and damaged wood inside and outside the home (think rafters and siding) can mean serious problems are happening inside the home, and often the extent of the damage can’t be gauged without in depth inspection. Because they don’t leave sawdust like carpenter ants, and workers rarely leave the colony, the only physical signs besides discovering tunnels is the fecal matter, external tunnels, and wings dropped during swarming.

Carpenter Ants

  • Tunnels – Smooth tunnels with minimal debri. Because carpenter ants don’t feed on wood, unlike termites, they do not leave textured tunnels or fecal matter.
  • Sawdust – Carpenter ants don’t feed on wood, carpenter ants eat what most ants eat: food scraps, smaller insects, and animal remains. They burrow into wood to create nests, and this often leaves sawdust trails.
  • Season – During the colder months carpenter ants are less active, as they hibernate. However if their colony is located in a warmer environment they will still be somewhat active during winter.
  • Indoor vs. Outdoor – If many of the wingless ‘worker’ ants are found inside near windowsills, it indicates that the colony may actually be present outside your home. If many winged ‘reproductive’ ants are found near windowsills it leans towards indicating the nest is indoors, or rather a satellite nest with a main parent colony still located outside.They travel in straight lines so it may be possible to follow them back to their outdoor source. Both the satellite and parent nests should be eliminated to help rid yourself of carpenter ants.


  • Carpenter Ants are only interested in nesting in the wood making up your structure, so extensive and dangerous damage is not usually an issue.
  • Termites on the other hand, eat away at the wood as well as form nests in/around it, thus dangerous and extensive structural damage is a common issue.


  • Both carpenter ants and termites are attracted to wood and unsealed structures. Carpenter ants and certain types of termites are especially attracted to damp woods, as they are easier to burrow through and provide a water source to the colony. Make sure you to familiarize yourself with potential problems areas where these pests may flourish.
  • Even with the knowledge to distinguish carpenter ants from termites, it can still be hard and time consuming. Professional pest control services can help you with identification, prevention, and extermination!

Want to know more about other common household pests? Check out our Pest ID center!

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