The Differences Between Carpenter Ants and Termites 

Updated February 15, 2021

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Ants and termites are both known to swarm when it’s time to mate. Both are also known for causing damage to wood. Did you know there are many species of ants and termites that often get confused for the other?

While many ant species swarm and have wings, this post will focus on carpenter ants because they are the most commonly confused with termites because they share a love of damaging wood.

Keep reading to learn the differences between termites and carpenter ants.



  • Have broad waists
  • Have straight, bead-like antennae
  • Have two sets of wings that are the same size
  • Eat cellulose inside of wood
  • Are not typically visible unless they are swarming
  • Are attracted to wood and moisture 
Carpenter Ants

Carpenter Ants

  • Have narrow waists
  • Have segmented, elbowed antennae
  • Have large forewings and small hind wings
  • Eat sugars and proteins
  • Are sometimes visible in the home
  • Are attracted to wood, moisture, and sweets

Telling the Difference Between Carpenter Ants and Termites

Body Shape

One of the key differences between ants and termites is their body shape. Ants have narrow “waists,” while termite “waists” are much broader.


Termite antennae are unique from ant antennae because they look like little balls or beads and are straight. Ant antennae, on the other hand, are distinctly elbowed.


Only reproductive carpenter ants and termites have wings and swarm from their colonies. There are a few ways to tell them apart, though the identifiers can be hard to see. Both insects have two sets of wings. Termites wings are the same size, but ants have two large forewings and two smaller hind wings. Sometimes, you may only find wings left behind in your home. If they’re all the same size, you’re likely dealing with termites. If they’re different sizes, your likely dealing with an ant infestation.


Termites are famous for eating wood. They actually need the cellulose from the wood to survive. Carpenter ants don’t eat wood but rather make their homes inside it as they excavate the shavings and burrow further into structures. Carpenter ants feed on other insects.


Termites live in different places, dependent on their species. Unless you see a swarm of termites, you will likely find signs of termites instead of seeing the actual bugs. Key signs you are dealing with a termite infestation include discarded wings, mud tubes, and wood damage. Termite droppings can be a sign of dry wood termites. Carpenter ants, however, venture out to forage for food, so you will likely see the actual ants in your home.


The moisture in your home attracts both species. They are also both attracted to wood and easy entry points. But, that’s where the list of what attracts termites and carpenter ants starts to deviate.

Another difference between ants and termites is carpenter ants do not eat wood, as we mentioned, meaning they’re attracted to other food sources and may be seen wandering on window sills and baseboards.

Whether you’re dealing with ants, termites, or any pest in between, count on Foundation Pest Control. We have more than 20 years of experience servicing clients in the greater Memphis area. We are family-owned and operated and so confident in our services that we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Contact us today to find out more.