What is the Difference Between Termites and Flying Ants?

S. Mithra
S. Mithra

Anyone who has been caught in a swarm of some kind of flying insect in his or her living room has a vested interest in deciding whether they are flying ants or termites. A few pointers can help distinguish the anatomy of one swarming insect from the other. Their bodies, wings, and reproductive cycles differ, though both can pose problems to your furniture or house.

One easy difference to notice between these insects is their shape. An ant's body has three individuated segments: the head, thorax, and abdomen. The joints where they meet look like a neck and a waist. A termite's two segments, the head and the thorax, look more like one piece. Species of ants have a variety of colors, from red to brown to black, but swarming termites are usually shiny black.

Termites' have a head and thorax that appear as one piece.
Termites' have a head and thorax that appear as one piece.

Another simple anatomical difference is their wingspans. Although both kinds of insects develop two pairs of wings just to mate, reproduce, and found new colonies, their wings look dissimilar. A termite's back wings are visible beneath the overlaying front wings, and if both pairs (on a dead specimen) are stretched out, it's clear that they're actually the same length. The wings are also easy to knock off, and may be found scattered around the site of a swarm. On a flying ant, the back wings hide beneath the front wings, so they are shorter, and they have tiny, visible veins.

Flying ants have three distinct segments.
Flying ants have three distinct segments.

Their antennae are also different. If a person can get a close look, he'll see that ant's antennae curve or bend inwards, topped by a ball called a club. A termite's antennae gently point outwards without any kinks, bends, or knobs at the end.

To further identify them, people will more likely find termites around wood, where they nest and feed, such as in the rafters in the attic or old furniture. Most ants, of course, prefer the kitchen where they snack on sweets like sugar or fruit.

A person is more likely to find termites around wood.
A person is more likely to find termites around wood.

In their swarming or flying stage, these insects are merely fulfilling one cycle of reproduction. Ants go through a "complete" metamorphosis, which means they develop from egg to larva to pupa to adult, or "alate." During reproduction, a male winged ant mates with a female winged ant, then the male dies and the female flies to create a new colony. Termites only go through a gradual metamorphosis when they go from egg to nymph to alate. Both males and females also join each other to travel to another place.

If a homeowner determines that the bugs are termites, he may need to take measures to eliminate the infestation. Certain species of ants, too, could pose a risk to the structural integrity of a home, and carpenter ants chew up wood. In these cases, it's best for the homeowner to consult an expert in pest extermination.

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Discussion Comments


I rent a brick home out in the country, and my landlord sends an exterminator out to spray around the house for termites once a year. I never would have thought of needing to call someone to do this on my own. If I don't see a problem, then I don't usually think about it.

The exterminator moves the pet bowls out of the way and sprays along the edges of the house. That is all it takes to keep the termites away for a long time.

I have never seen a flying ant before. I've never seen a termite at this house, because of the insecticide. I wonder if this insecticide for termites also works on flying ants?


@Perdido – Yes, flying ants do bite. This is another difference between ants and termites. Termites only want to bite wood.

However, people are way more concerned with getting rid of termite infestations than getting rid of flying ants. Personally, I would be more wary of the kind that could snack on me rather than just my house.


I called an exterminator for what I thought was going to be termite treatment. I had seen bugs that resembled ants flying around inside my house in winter, and I figured that I had termites feasting on my home.

The exterminator told me that they were actually flying carpenter ants. He used a powdered insecticide, and he put it into holes that he had to drill into the wood.

I never got bitten by one, but I really didn't want to share my home with them. My exterminator said that they weren't as destructive as termites, but that didn't make me want them gone any less.


I didn't know there was such a thing as flying ants! I thought anything that flew and looked like an ant was a termite.

It's kind of creepy to think that ants could be flying around. I've gotten several on my feet at once before, and the pain from their bites is pretty intense. If they can fly, then they could land on my face and bite it, right?


i have a few flying ants in my home. I see them mostly in the evening. how do i get rid of these pests? i have animals in my home too.


Every summer I have a problem with flying ants in my pool in Georgia. They seem to fly in to the pool early afternoon until evening. It looks like you put black pepper in the pool. There are so many that you have to get out of the water. They are the black winged ants. I would like to know if they bite. I do not want to stay in the water to find out. Thanks


do termites eat or knaw at drywall in garages? and if so what causes them to do so?


i heard from my exterminator that ants develop wings when their colony reaches a certain number. i wonder if this is true, and why? is it some sort of survival adaptation? i also didn't realize that ants set up colonies IN your house...i just think of them living in ant hills out in the yard!

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