Termites are much-feared insects due to their destructive habit of consuming wood, and they are responsible for five billion dollars per year in damage to homes, businesses and other structures. However, termites are not the only pests that can cause significant damage to your home's wooden structure; carpenter ants are another wood-destroying insect. It can be difficult to know which one may be chewing up your home, so if you believe you have a termite problem, take a closer look to be sure. Below is more information about how you can differentiate between carpenter ants and termites:
Differences in size and shape
A key difference separating carpenter ants and termites is found in the variation of physical shape and color between the two insects. The most commonly encountered carpenter ant species in the United States is the black carpenter ant. This species is completely black with a smooth thorax, and worker ants are typically around one-half inch in length, while reproductive queens can achieve a length of one inch.
Termites, on the other hand, have pale-colored bodies with no segments, and they are also smaller than carpenter ants. Winged termites can be spotted during spring swarms, but their coloration and straight antennae differentiate them from flying ants that may also be present in swarms. One way to determine if termites or carpenter ants are causing your trouble is to be on the lookout for shed termite wings on windowsills and other areas near your home; the presence of these wing remnants is a tell-tale sign of termite infestation.
Differences in diet
One of the most surprising characteristics about carpenter ants is they do not actually eat wood. Instead, carpenter ants use their mandibles to "saw" wood into tiny pieces called frass, which appears as sawdust, but it offers them no sustenance. Carpenter ants have a diet consisting of proteins and sugary foods; they prefer to eat certain types of sweet nectars and will also devour protein-heavy foods such as meat, nuts and fats.
Termites, however, are known for their habit of chewing into and devouring wood. Termites actually consume the wood and are able to digest it using special enzymes inside their digestive tract. Due to their voracious appetite, the relative amount of damage is often greater, as well, when compared to carpenter ants. Finding extensive wood damage is indicative of termite infestation.
Differences in light sensitivity
Termites are light-sensitive, so they often will not be seen by the homeowner. Carpenter ants prefer darkness, too, but they are easier to spot during the daylight hours and can be seen foraging in the open during nighttime. Using a flashlight with a red lens is an excellent way to detect carpenter ants, as the red light is invisible to their eyes and will not send send them scurrying. Patient use of the flashlight in following foraging ants can lead you to their nesting sites.
Differences in nest construction and materials
One of the easiest ways to differentiate between a termite and carpenter ant infestation is to study damage areas. Carpenter ants leave smooth-sided pockets of damage behind. These Carpenter ants are capable of creating rooms inside wood, called galleries, that have a sandpaper finish and feeling and are also clean of debris. In addition, the ants take care to remove and distribute the tiny fragments of wood outside of the galleries; if you spot small piles that look like sanding dust, you likely have found a disposal spot for carpenter ants.
However, termite nests are often constructed underground, away from the house itself, and these nests are used for rearing larvae and pupae as well as for storing food. Most termites "view" your home as a food source and nothing more. When termites do eat your home, they cut through wood in such a way to form irregular, rough tunnels and cavities. Not only that, but termites leave behind a smear of "mud", which is actually a mixture of feces and dirt. This mud is then used to seal up openings and build tunnels as well as other tasks within the colony. Locating mud tunnels on foundation walls is another strong indicator of the presence of termites.
For more information, talk to a professional, like those at Garrie Pest Control.