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ant vs termite

Q: I found hundreds of flying insects swarming in my back yard.  Will you be able to identify whether they are ants or termites?

Ant swarmers are distinguished from termites by their pinched waists and elbowed antennae. Swarmers may or may not have wings.

Ant swarmers are distinguished from termites by their pinched waists and elbowed antennae. Swarmers may or may not have wings.

A:  I appreciate you bringing in a sample to the Extension office of the insect.  There are a few easy ways to look at the insect to determine if it is an ant or termite. The most obvious feature to examine is the wings. On the termite the wings are equal in length and much longer than the insect’s body. The ant’s wings are different lengths with the lower (hind) wing being shorter than the upper (fore) wing. The antennae are straight on termites but have a definite bend or elbow shape on the ant. The body of the termite is solid but ants have a distinct, pinched waist. Do not use color of body to help you identify as both insects can vary in color.

The winged stage of termites and ants is called  an alate. The reason they swarm is they are seeking mates and another site to build a nest. Termites will fly a short distance, drop to the ground and shed their wings. Female termites begin to search for potential nesting sites such as moist crevices with wood and males follow closely behind. The pair forms a royal chamber in a moist site near wood and begins laying eggs, thus starting the life cycle of a subterranean termite colony. Individuals hatched from eggs (called larvae) then molt into workers or they may ultimately take over the role of queen.

Since I have identified this insect as a termite, I would suggest you contact your pesticide company to determine the next step.  If you have no specific pesticide company taking care of your home currently, then I would suggest you call several companies to assist you with how to best control this pest. Your home is most likely your biggest financial investment and you want to be sure it is protected.  Attached is a publication from the University of Florida with photos regarding the differences between ants and termites. http://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/entomo/ants/ant%20vs%20termite.htm