It is easy to confuse termites with other insects due to the possession of similar physical traits. The signs of damage like frass and wood are also identical. Identifying termites plus their signs of destruction is important because there is a risk of using the wrong solution.
Termites have social structures and unique physical characteristics. In a colony, there is a termite king and queen, workers, soldiers, and flying or winged termites (alates). The size of a termite is about a quarter of an inch to three quarters an inch.
Most termites are either white to light brown. Soldier termites are darker compared to worker termites. Termites also have four identical transparent wings and two straight antennae on the head.
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Insects and bugs that look Like termites
Common insects and bugs that look like termites in and around the home are carpenter ants, powderpost beetles, flying ants, carpenter bees, and acrobat ants.
Confusing other insects with termites may lead to the application of ineffective control measures. Here are 6 examples of insects that look like termites plus how to identify them:
1. Carpenter ants
Carpenter ants are usually confused with termites because of color and size similarities. The color of carpenter ants and termites ranges from black to dark brown, while their sizes are 0.25 inches to 0.5 inches.
Termites and carpenter ants also use two wing pairs. But, the front wings of carpenter ants are longer, unlike the back wings. Some carpenter ants may not have wings like some termites.
Carpenter ants are not identical to termites because they have a narrow thorax, bent antennae, and leave shredded woodpiles. Termites possess a broad thorax, straight antennae, and form shredded woodpiles. Wood tunnels created by carpenter ants and termites are smooth and rougher, respectively.
2. Powderpost beetles
Powderpost beetles, like termites, feed on wood and can cause substantial structural damage if you do not instantly resolve the issue. The name of the insects indicates they eat and leave the wood in the form of powder or particles.
The insect infests wood and creates holes, cracks, and tunnels for shelter and laying eggs. The gaps created in a wood structure are surrounded by what appears like flour or powder, which is a pile of sawdust.
Powderpost beetles avoid finished wood because there are no crevices or gaps to exploit for egg-laying. The insects prefer infesting hardwoods like bamboo and walnut and younger woods with an excellent supply of nutrients.
On the contrary, the Anobiid powderpost beetle attacks both hard and softwood. The powderpost beetle species can also infest mature wood.
Powderpost beetles are most active during nighttime and are almost exactly alike in size to termites.
3. Flying ants
The adult insects develop wings that enable them to fly away in search of new nesting locations, mating friends, and a new colony. Ants move around a lot during the breeding season, which takes place in the year’s warm months.
Most species of ants are not classified as wood-boring bugs or insects. If you have an ant infestation, whether a flying ant or other types, signs of wood damage may not even exist. Still, flying ants can invade your home and destroy your supply of food. Termites will not attack your food.
Flying ants have pairs of wings that do not have a regular shape, while termites have two similar pairs of wings. As an ant, flying ants also possess two bent antennae and have thin bodies.
Apart from a similar body appearance, both the flying ants and termites move in swarms.
4. Carpenter bees
Carpenter bees and termites are mainly similar in how they infest and form tunnels for nesting in wood structures. Carpenter bees, looking like bumblebees, earned the nickname wood bees because of their typical behavior of making holes in wood.
When you come into contact with a carpenter bee, recognizing its differences from termites becomes much easier. A carpenter bee has a glossy black body and a yellow patch with tints of blue, brown, and green.
The insect is approximately one inch long, makes perfectly round wood holes, and leaves sawdust piles adjacent to holes and tunnels built. In addition, while termites live together, carpenter bees stay individually.
Expect a carpenter bee to make a sound similar to a helicopter’s as it flies around your home.
5. Acrobat ants
People mistake acrobat ants for termites because they reside and relax inside walls and wood. Most of the time, acrobat ants only invade wood holes and pathways built and abandoned by other types of bugs that resemble termites.
The insects get their name from their behavior of lifting their abdomens above their thorax and head. For that reason, the insect looks like it should be acting in a circus. Acrobat ants usually assume an unusual ability when they notice a source of disturbance or threat and prepare to respond. When responding to a threat, the insect may bite and or release a disgusting smell.
Acrobat ants are the smallest species of ants, with a length of two to three millimeters. The abdomen has a shape like a heart, and its thorax is narrow. Furthermore, the body has flat segments supported by six legs.
When mayflies are on the move, they look like flying termites. The insects, like termites, are most active during warmer months, vigorously active after a rainfall, move in groups, and are attracted by light from homes. Since light attracts mayflies, you may see them gathering on your patio decks, window screens, and doors.
Still, mayflies are distinct from termites. The insects commonly attack water collection sites around homes, including swimming pools, ponds, and waterholes. When mayflies are active, expect them in your home from June to July if you live near a lake, swamp, or river.
The insects are more prominent than flying termites and come in various, lighter colors. Mayflies also have relatively more minor rear wings than the front wings.
Characteristics of termites
Flying termites often move in groups. It is unusual to find a termite flying solo, and in case that happens, there is a high chance other termites are swarming nearby.
You should easily recognize the common species of termites like the damp wood, subterranean, Formosan, and dry wood termites. The Subterranean termites have the biggest colony of up to 2 million and are primarily attracted to warmer regions in the USA, except for Alaska.
The Formosan termites are yellowish-brown, found in Hawaii and southern states like Florida and Alabama. But, dry wood termites, ranging from dark brown to light, yellowish-tan, mostly attack regions with warm temperatures and no punishing winters, like Florida and California.
Once you have identified whether you are dealing with termites or other types of insects in your home, the next step is to get rid of them. A long-lasting infestation of termites or termite look-alikes may lead to widespread damage to your timber and wooden materials.
Identification mistakes can lead to a situation that can get worse and more costly. Therefore, as a homeowner, commit to understanding how to differentiate termites from other types of bugs that are look-alikes. Below are some possible solutions for stopping bugs from invading your home:
- Use types of light such as sodium vapor lamps which do not attract insects. Install the lamps in your yard and adjacent to your swimming pool and doorway
- Ensure your windows have a mesh that deters insects from attacking inside the home.
- Always maintain a clean yard without water collection points
- Keep the mulch away from contact with your buildings
- Use safe, effective bug-killing products.
- Pepermint oil ant repellents are highly recomended indoors
- Stack woodpiles away from the walls of your home
- Keep your home well ventilated without excess accumulation of moisture
In conclusion, call a pest control expert immediately if you notice a potential attack by an insect you either recognize or not. A pest control expert understands effective and safe solutions for controlling and preventing an infestation.
- University of California: Subterranean and other termites
- Cornell University: Wood Destroying Insects