Termites are a destructive insect pest that you absolutely don’t want on your property.
Wood-eating termites are often mistaken for harmless ants. But could you tell the difference?
In this guide, you’ll find lots of helpful information to enable you to distinguish between the two species, including over 50 images of termites. Once you’ve positively identified the pest, you’ll know what action to take to eradicate it.
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Ants or termites?
The first thing you’ll want to know is, “Do I have ants or termites?” Well, we have an article that you can read here that will answer that question for you.
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Although the two can look similar to the untrained eye, ants are just a harmless nuisance around your home. Termites, on the other hand, can wreak havoc and inflict expensive structural damage on your property by chewing through joists, beams, and roofing shingles.
What do termites look like?
There are two species of termites: drywood termites and subterranean termites.
The most noticeable sign of drywood termite activity around your house and garden is likely to be in the springtime when the weather warms up, and heavy rainfall is experienced. These weather conditions trigger swarming.
Termites of the reproductive caste within a colony leave in search of fresh territory. They take flight as swarmers, or alates.
Swarmers have two pairs of wings. The front set has a distinctive pattern of well-pigmented veins on the outer part of the wing, and it’s this that will help you to distinguish swarmers from flying ants.
After swarming has taken place, you’ll often find piles of dead termite alates on the windowsills outside your home, minus their wings that they shed.
If a colony of drywood termites has already become established, you may see soldier termites. These insects are white, are much larger than ants, and have distinctive mandibles with teeth. Their heads are much broader than their bodies and are usually darkish brown.
Signs of drywood termite infestation
As their name suggests, drywood termites feed and live within dry wood. Because the species does not need much moisture to survive, they are commonly found within the internal structures of houses, rather than in external damp wood.
Drywood termites do not require wood to be in contact with the ground to gain access to your home and create a colony.
Drywood termites extract much of the water they need from their feces. As a result, they produce distinctive pellets called frass. Keep an eye out for small mounds of tiny brown frass pellets beneath beams, skirting boards, on wooden windowsills or near to other timber structures inside your home, as this could indicate an infestation.
Like drywood termites, subterranean termites swarm when the weather is warm, often following heavy rainfall when sexually mature, winged male and female termites leave their colony to seek a location in which to establish a new base.
Swarming subterranean termites should not be mistaken for flying ants. Subterranean termite alates are smaller than ants and have four wings of equal size, whereas flying ants have two large front wings and two smaller ones behind.
Following swarming, subterranean termites shed their wings. You may notice piles of shed wings on the windowsills inside and outside of your home; they look somewhat like fish scales.
Look carefully at the wings. If they’re all the same size, they are probably from termite swarmers, rather than ants.
Subterranean termites rarely venture out into the open. However, if you spot any moving around, they’re pretty easy to distinguish from ants. Termites are about 10mm in length and are cream-colored, often with a brown head. Soldier termites are a little larger and have obvious, brown mandibles.
Signs of subterranean termite infestation
As their name suggests, subterranean termites establish their colonies underground and are therefore very difficult to detect. The termite nest is made up of a network of tunnels and chambers that the insects build from mud and saliva.
The presence of a colony is often only given away when the termites come above ground in search of food (wood). You probably won’t see the actual termites, but you may spot the tunnels they construct to move around in.
Look for tiny tubes of mud on the walls or foundations of your home; this is a sure sign of a subterranean termite infestation.
Subterranean termites eat the cellulose material contained in wood. Watch out for visible signs of damage to wood in and around your property. Look especially at floorboards, skirting boards, furniture, and even books. You might notice small piles of frass in these areas; a sure sign that you may have an infestation.
Pictures of termites
Now you know what kind of pest you’re dealing with, here are some images to help you make a positive identification.