Termites are notorious for the way they affect wood, eating their way into spaces that didn't previously exist. They convert the cellulose in wood to give their bodies nourishment.
“In nature, termites are beneficial,” according to termite-control.com. “They recycle fallen trees and decaying stumps. When people build homes and buildings, termites attack these structures as well.”
It’s the damage to homes and buildings that likely has you worrying about termites, but did you know ants can also harm the wood in your home? Instead of eating wood, ants dig their way in.
What does the damage look like?
Even without seeing either insect, you can determine which is nesting in your home by looking at the destruction. For example, ants are attracted to damaged wood, while termites can excavate intact wood. Ants will leave behind piles of wood shavings because they do not eat what they gouge out.
While both insects ravage the wood in your home, termites tend to take it farther.
“Out of all the countless insects and other pests that disturb homeowners everywhere, few are more dangerous than the termite,” according to wikiHow. “Only termites can single-handedly ruin and destroy a house's very foundation and character in just a few short years.”
If you are unable to tell what insect is in your home based on the damage, keep an eye out for the actual insects.
How to tell the difference
Termites and many large ants, called carpenter ants, are about the same size and tend to be seen in large groups around the same time of year. However, The Spruce points out a few key differences that will help you identify whether you are looking at a termite or a carpenter ant:
A termite has no "waist” — instead, its body is more rectangular, without any narrowing in the center.
The termite has straight, beaded antennae.
The termite has four wings that are of equal size and shape. Its wings are also longer than its body.
Termite workers are transparent, light or creamy white, and they avoid light. Termites are rarely seen unless their nest is disturbed.
The carpenter ant has a well-defined, narrow, constricted waist.
The antennae of ants are bent or "elbowed."
A carpenter ant has four wings, with the back wings shorter than its front wings.
Ant workers are reddish or dark-colored and are frequently seen in the open foraging for food.
You can work to prevent ants and termites by keeping a clean and moisture-free home, keeping wood off your property or treating it with permethrin, and using mint and other plants as repellents. However, if you are already dealing with an infestation, preventative measures aren’t sufficient.
Dampwood termites don’t require a chemical treatment, while subterranean termites can be eliminated with termiticide and a trench around the affected area in your foundation. Ants, on the other hand, require sprays and baits in different combinations, depending on the infestation. You may need to have regular treatments to prevent ants from coming back.