Termites vs Carpenter Ants: What’s Destroying the Wood in Your Home?

You suspect that something is destroying the wood in your home. Maybe you’ve seen mazes in your furniture or noticed your floors seem to be buckling. Or, maybe you’ve seen wings or what looks like sawdust around your windowsills and door frames. Regardless, you know something is up … and it isn’t looking good. Do you know the difference between damaged caused by termites vs carpenter ants?

Both termites and carpenter ants can cause significant damage over time. If you think your home has an infestation of one of these pests, it’s important to know which one. Each has a different MO and a different elimination approach.

So, which is worse in the game of termites vs carpenter ants? Here is an overview of the differences between them—including how they do their damage—and how you can spot and eliminate them.

Which Is Which? Termites vs Carpenter Ants
It’s important to know what termites and carpenter ants look like in case you see them. (That said, it’s more unlikely to see termites than carpenter ants.) Termites and carpenter ants are somewhat similar in size but differ in other aspects. Here is a simple breakdown of some of the more obvious differences:

Body shape Rectangular, no waist “Pinched” waist
Antennae Straight antennae Bent antennae
Color Whitish or pale yellow (workers)Whitish/yellow with brown jaws (soldiers)Dark brown/black with wings (swarmers) Brown, black, or reddish in color
Wings Four long, rounded, whitish wings, all of equal length (and appearing to be one wing) Four pointed, yellow/black wings, with the pair in front longer than the pair in back



Both termites and carpenter ants reproduce by having the winged, reproducing members leave the colony, in order to find a mate and start a new colony. This is when they “swarm,” and it’s when you’re most likely to notice these pests. In fact, if you see lots of discarded wings inside your home, that’s a sure sign of an infestation.

Food or Shelter?

Understandably, it makes no difference to you how or why a pest is destroying the wood in your home: you just want them gone! But it’s important to know exactly how the damage is occurring, because this will tell you which pest you have—and how to fight it.

Termites actually eat wood (and cellulose) as part of their diet. The subterranean termites common in Ohio create their colonies underground, then build mud tubes (a mixture of soil and digested wood) to go from underground colony to aboveground food sources. (The mud tube protects them from predators and dry air.)

Carpenter ants, on the other hand, do not eat wood or cellulose. What they actually do is excavate the wood—chewing into the wood and removing the shavings in order to nest inside.

You can actually distinguish termites’ vs carpenter ants’ activity based on the wood itself: if you inspect wood for pest activity and find the interior is filled with soil and mud, termites are most likely the culprit. If the hollows inside are smooth and polished, it’s carpenter ants. Also, if you see “tubes” of mud snaking along the exterior of the wood, this is a sign of termites. (Carpenter ants do not build mud tubes.) Finally, if you find what looks like sawdust or wood shavings, it’s carpenter ants.

Eliminating Termites and Ants
Which pests you have—termites or ants—will determine how to combat them.

For both subterranean termite and ant infestations, finding then destroying the nest is key. Unless this is done, the problem will most likely continue.

If you have subterranean termites, you will need to locate the nest (outdoors and underground) in order to fully eliminate the infestation. If you have carpenter ants, on the other hand, you’ll need to locate the parent nest outdoors as well as any satellite nests (which can be outdoors or indoors).

Once the nest (or nests) is located, the control measures differ based on the pest.

Termite control often involves the use of termite baits—and in some cases a liquid barrier termiticide treatment to the soil—around the colony and surrounding the home, while carpenter ant control involves treatment of the soil (for nests outdoors) and wall voids (for nests indoors).

When it comes to pest control, termites and carpenter ants are not pests you want to deal with yourself—they can be difficult to exterminate and almost impossible to DIY. If you suspect you have a termite or carpenter ant infestation, we recommend calling in a pest control professional.

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ScherZinger Pest Control, a trusted pest control company in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas, including Dayton and Columbus. We’ve been pioneers who have engineered new standards for ways of eliminating and controlling bugs and pests. Contact us by phone at 1-877-748-9888 or through our websiteFacebook, or Twitter.