Carpenter Ants vs Termites: What’s The Difference?

Whether you have carpenter ants vs termites, both insects will cause significant damage to your property. Although, how they cause damage and how to most effectively treat them differs significantly.

In this article, you’ll learn about the essential differences between carpenter ants and termites to help you identify the pest in your home and act accordingly.

First, let’s take a look at the physical differences between the two species. Understanding these differences can ensure you correctly identify the pests in your home, making it more likely that any treatment will be successful.

Carpenter ants are generally larger than termites, with powerful mandibles and a narrow waist between the thorax and abdomen. Furthermore, did you know that house centipedes will eat carpenter ants and termites? So if you see one of these centipedes roaming your home, let them be, because they are on patrol!

Conversely, termites have a broader waist and are usually lighter in color, often appearing white or pale brown. However, it will depend on whether you are talking about dampwood termites, drywood termites, or subterranean.

Pictures of Carpenter Ants VS Termites

Carpenter ants vs termites

Now that you’re familiar with the appearance of these pests, it’s essential to explore their respective habits and the damage they can cause to your home.

Knowing the difference in their behavior patterns will help you identify which pest you are dealing with and guide you in selecting the most effective treatment plan.

We are here to help you understand these pests on a deeper level.

Carpenter Ants Overview (Camponotus spp)

Carpenter Ant with triangle pattern on back (camponotus substitutus)

Physical Characteristics

Carpenter ants are relatively large, typically ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length. You’ll notice they have a dark, black, or reddish-brown colored body.

Additionally, these ants have bent antennae and rounded, heart-shaped heads. Another defining feature is that their pedicel has one segment. You’ll also see that worker ants have large, strong jaws, which they use to chew through wood.


You’ll find carpenter ants in forests and wooded areas, and they prefer moist environments. They often inhabit decaying or damp wood, like fallen logs, tree stumps, or hollow tree branches. Since they are attracted to wet wood, they can be a common bathroom bug.

You might also find them in your home or yard, particularly in moist fungus-ridden wood structures affected by water damage.


You should know carpenter ants form colonies with one queen and several thousand workers. The queen is responsible for laying eggs, while the workers care for the eggs, forage for food and maintain the nest. These colonies consist of multiple satellite nests connected to a central parent nest.


These ants are nocturnal, so you’ll most likely observe them when they’re active, foraging for food at night. Carpenter ants have a varied diet, consisting of insects, honeydew from aphids, and other sweet substances.

It’s important to note that carpenter ants don’t eat wood – they hollow it out to create nests, which can cause structural damage to your home if left unchecked.

As a result, you should be vigilant when detecting and addressing any infestations you might encounter. Learn more: how to get rid of carpenter ants!

carpenter ant wood damage

Do Carpenter ants bite?

Like termites, a carpenter ant can bite if disturbed. The worst part is that they’ll spray formic acid which can get into the bite wound and cause pain + irritation.

Like this article? Check out one on ants vs bed bugs!

Lifecycle of Carpenter Ants

Maturity in carpenter ant colonies can take up to 6 years. Depending on the species, colonies can consist of 3,000 to 100,000 workers.

Nuptial Fight

In early summer, male and female carpenter ants with wings participate in a nuptial flight. While in midair, they mate, and the male dies soon after.

Queen Loses Wings

Afterward, the queen loses her wings and searches for a small cavity in the wood. The carpenter ant queen seals herself in the pit and lays 9-16 eggs.

Eggs Hatch into Larvae

Additionally, these eggs will take 2-5 weeks to hatch into larvae. These hook-shaped larvae will go through 4 instar stages over 2-3 weeks. As the larvae grow and mature, they molt and eventually spin cocoons.

Queen Helps Larvae Emerge

Furthermore, the queen will help emerging adults release themselves from the cocoon. She stays there alone until her first brood grows into adult workers.

Initially, the queen only lays a few eggs, which hatch into small workers. Until they can find food, the queen cares for them by feeding them from her salivary glands. When the workers reach adulthood, they establish and maintain the nest.

Three to six years are required to develop a large colony of carpenter ants. The queen will rear the first brood.

Further broods are fed and cared for by the workers. Workers will cut galleries to enlarge the nest as the colony grows. After three years or more, winged males and females are produced. These will engage in nuptial flights and start a new colony.

Termites Overview (Reticulitermes flavipes and others…)

We will mainly talk about the Eastern Subterranean Termite here, the most common in North America.

Termite vs carpenter ant

Physical Characteristics

The swarmers and soldiers are 3/8 inch (10 mm) when observing eastern subterranean termites. Next, you’ll look at the color: termites typically exhibit a creamy-white to brownish color.

Unlike carpenter ants, termite workers have soft bodies; they are easily prone to desiccation and often hide away in dark, moist environments.


A termite mound may be a clue that you have a termite colony. Furthermore, these mounds are made of a combination of soil and termite secretions, forming a reliable structure to protect the territory.

You’ll commonly find termites in warm and humid environments, so fixing leaky basements is imperative. It’s also one of the reasons why they are on our list of common basement bugs.

However, some species of termites exist above ground without ever going under. Just know that termites can enter a building through 1-2mm cracks.


A termite colony comprises three primary castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Each caste serves a specific function, and together, they maintain the stability and growth of their colony.

  • Workers: In your encounter with termites, you will mostly see workers, as they are the most numerous within a colony. They are responsible for feeding the entire territory, foraging, constructing tunnels, and maintaining the nest.

mud tube with termite swarm

  • Soldiers: These termites are recognizable by their large, elongated heads with powerful mandibles. They mainly protect the colony from potential threats like ants or other predators.

  • Reproductives: In this life stage, they consist of the king and queen; their purpose is to reproduce and ensure the continuation of the colony. Once a year, reproductive termites swarm to find a mate and start new colonies.


Termites are social insects working together to support their colony. They communicate using pheromones and create harmony among the members.

While you may think termites are destructive by nature, they are essential to breaking down wood and other plant materials in their environment.

Though it isn’t pleasant when termites invade your home, remember that their primary focus is not destruction but foraging for food sources to sustain their colony.

Remember to consider the importance of securing your home against these insects; their damage can be costly if left unchecked.

Do Termites Bite?

You may wonder “do termites bite humans?” and the simple answer is “no. However if you agitate one, we can’t rule it out.

Further Reading on Termites: Learn more about termites vs bed bugs.

Signs of Carpenter Ants VS Termites

Signs of a carpenter’s ant infestation include sawdust-like material, known as frass, near the entrance to their nest. You may also see carpenter ants crawling around your home, especially near areas with moisture or dampness.

Termite workers, on the other hand, are smaller and have a pale, almost translucent color. They feed on wood and can cause significant damage to your home if left untreated.

Signs of a termite infestation will include mud tubes, which they use to travel from their nest to the wood they feed on. You may also notice small holes in your home’s beams, sagging floors, and ceilings, indicating termite damage.

The critical difference between carpenter ants vs termites is their differing taxonomy, look, and behavior. Carpenter ants do not eat wood but instead excavate tunnels, while termites feed on wood.

Carpenter Ants Vs. Termites

Differences in Physical Appearance: Carpenter Ants VS Termites

When comparing carpenter ants and termites, you’ll notice some differences in their physical appearance. Carpenter ants have a distinct waist and elbowed antennae, while termites have a straight abdomen and straight antennae. In addition:

Carpenter ants: 

  • Color: Black, red, or a combination
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Waist: Narrow and pinched
  • Antennae: 12 segments without a club, plus elbowed


  • Color: Creamy white to dark brown
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Isoptera
  • Waist: Broad and straight
  • Antennae: Straight

Differences in Habitat: Carpenter Ants Vs Termites

Carpenter ants and termites prefer different habitats based on their nesting habits. Carpenter ants establish their colonies in moist, decaying wood, while termites live in various environments that contain cellulose materials.

Carpenter ants:

  • Habitat: Moist, decaying wood
  • Common nest locations: Tree stumps, dead trees, or wooden structures


  • Habitat: Soil or any environment with cellulose materials
  • Common nest locations: Underground, inside walls, or mounds above ground

Differences in Feeding Habits: Carpenter Ants Vs Termites

Carpenter ants and termites have different feeding habits, which can influence their infestation patterns. Carpenter ants primarily feed on proteins and sugars, while termites consume cellulose-based materials.

Carpenter ants:

  • Diet: Protein and sugar sources, including insects and household items
  • Infestation pattern: Limited to areas near food sources and decaying wood


  • Diet: Cellulose-based materials, such as wood, paper, and cardboard
  • Infestation pattern: Can spread throughout a structure, consuming cellulose materials

Pest Control Implications

Controlling carpenter ant and termite infestations demands different approaches, as their other feeding habits and nesting environments play a critical role in their response to treatments:

Carpenter ants:

  • Control methods: Baits containing protein or sugar, insecticides, or removing decaying wood sources
  • Prevention: Regular inspection, sealing entry points, and maintaining moisture levels


  • Control methods: Soil treatment, baiting stations, or structural fumigation
  • Prevention: Regular inspections, moisture control, and removing cellulose materials near the foundation. Just be aware that you may see concrete mites around your foundation as well.

Final Thoughts for Carpenter Ants VS Termites

Understanding the differences between carpenter ants vs termites is essential for protecting your home and property. These insects can cause significant damage, and recognizing their characteristics will allow you to take the necessary steps to prevent and treat infestations.

To recap the differences:

  • Appearance: Carpenter ants are more prominent, with a narrow waist and bent antennae. Termites are smaller, with a thick abdomen and straight antennae.
  • Diet: Carpenter ants primarily eat other insects and sugars from plants, while termites consume cellulose found in wood.
  • Damage: While both insects can cause damage to wood, carpenter ants excavate wood to create nests, while termites eat the wood for sustenance.

Remember, staying proactive in maintaining and monitoring your property can help you avoid major issues with carpenter ants and termites. If you suspect an infestation, contact a professional exterminator for assistance to ensure you effectively resolve the problem.

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