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Flying Ant vs. Termites

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Yikes! There's a swarm of flying insects in your house! How can you tell if they're termites or just flying ants? Read on to find out how to answer that important question.

What is That Insect?

If you live in the southern United States, then you are no stranger to flying insects. It seems that just about every season has its mascot - be it mosquitoes in the spring or love bugs in the fall.

Two insects you are likely to see during the warm summer weather are termites and flying ants. Though they look similar and are both considered pests, they are different animals. So let's take a look at the two to see what the differences are between them.

Termites

Let's start with termites, which are insects that feed on dead or decaying plant material, including the wood that your house is made of. They are especially pesky because you may not realize you have an infestation until they have already caused severe damage.

Termites live in large caste colonies, meaning there are different types of jobs within the group, like workers and the queen that rules them. Depending on the species (of which there are over 2,000 worldwide and 40 in the U.S.), these colonies can be as large as several million individuals.

The termites that you actually see flying around are the reproductive individuals that will fly away and create new termite colonies. Workers, which make up the majority of the colony, are the ones doing damage to your house, eating and feeding the rest of the group.

Termites have wide, straight bodies, straight antennae, and wings that are all the same size
winged termite

Flying Ants

Flying ants are insects that eat nectar, food debris, and even other insects, as opposed to your house. There are over 10,000 species of ants all over the world, many of which have winged individuals.

They also form caste colonies, which are also headed by a queen. There are also worker ants, and again, the ones you see with wings flying around are the reproductive individuals. The workers are non-reproductive females that care for the queen and her children, as well as find food for the colony.

Like termites, reproductive male and female flying ants leave the colony to mate and create new colonies. You'll see flying ants around at the same time of year as termites.

Termites vs. Flying Ants

Termites and flying ants do look similar! But there are some distinct differences that will help you decide what kind of pest control you may want to visit your house.

Flying ants have a narrow, pinched waist, bent antennae, and front wings that are longer than their back wings
flying ant

Both termites and flying ants have wings, but a termite's wings are all about the same length, whereas the front wings of the flying ant are longer than its back wings. Termites also have straight antennae, while the antennae of flying ants are bent. If you look at the body of a termite you will notice that it is wide and straight, compared to the flying ant which has a narrow, pinched waist.

As mentioned, the diets of these two insects are different as well. Termites eat plant materials such as wood and can cause a great deal of damage. Flying ants on the other hand do not eat wood, and prefer nectar and food scraps you leave behind.

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