Ants or Termites? Here’s How To Tell the Difference

Our Texas insect expert answers common questions about bugs.

By Laura Rice April 8, 2016 10:40 am

If you’ve notice swarming insects around your yard, you might be asking yourself, “Ants or termites?” Wizzie Brown, an insect specialist with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Office has some tips on how to identify these winged critters and what to do next.

What’s the difference between ants and termites? 

“If you have the swarmers, it’s very easy to tell  ants swarmers from termite swarmers if you know what to look for. When you’re talking about ant swarmers, you look for a pinched waist. They are going to have their front wings longer than the hind wings, and if you look at the antennae, they are going to have elbowed antennae, or their antennae are going to be in the shape of an L.

If you look at termite swarmers, the waist is going to be broadly joined so it’s going to be thicker, if you look at the wings – the wings are going to be of equal shape and size, and if you look at the antennae they’re going to be straight.”

What’s the best way to observe them? What if I’m squeamish about insects? 

“Don’t smash the insect if you want to identify it! It makes it really difficult to identify the features. If you can, I generally take those little disposable plastic containers that I have in my kitchen – and then I’ll put it over one and put the lid or a piece of paper under to scoop it up. Then you can stick it in the freezer to kill it, and then you can look at everything. If you are squeamish about touching insects, grab your camera or your camera phone, snap a picture, and you can send it to me for identification.”

I have (ants or termites) – what now? 

“If it’s an ant swarmer, depending on how you feel about ants, you may or may not need to do anything. If it’s a fire ants swarmer than you probably would need to treat for fire ants because they’re not very fun to have in your yard. But if it’s a pyramid ant or something like that it’s not too big of a deal.

If you have a termites swarmer, then that means that there’s termites in the area. since this is Texas that’s not surprising, but you want to make sure they’re not on your house.”