Termite and carpenter ant infestations make homeowners cringe. Termites cause more damage than ants, but ants can cause real structural damage if the problem gets out of hand. Recognizing which type of infestation you have, or understanding the slight correlation between carpenter ants and termites is something all homeowners should understand.
People often confuse termites with ants. At a quick glance, they look similar in length, about 1/2 inch to 1 inch long. Both are brown or black and cause structural damage to wood. The winged version of both the termites and carpenter ants, however, represents the most striking similarity. In this respect, seeing what you may think looks like carpenter ants, may really indicate a termite infestation because they look so similar.
Ants, namely carpenter ants, go after termites for their resources, according to Colorado State University. These ants actually eat termites if they penetrate the termite's defenses. Termites actually create defensive barricades to deter ant infestation. The fact that ants want to invade the termites, however, indicates a possible connection between seeing carpenter ants and having a termite infestation.
Ants can live in termite tunnels. In fact, they prefer the termite tunnels because they already have shelter and food. Termites view ants as their main predators, however, and defend their tunnels to the death, according to Lewis Cobb Orlando Pest, Lawn and Termite Control. Although it is unlikely for an ant colony to inhabit the same tunnels as termites at the same time, seeing carpenter ants could indicate a possible power struggle between existing termites.
Carpenter ants and termites look similar and both cause structural wood damage, but they do have distinct differences as well. Ants have pinched waists and a bend in their antennae. Termites, on the other hand, have a uniformly shaped abdomen and no bend to their antennae. Their tunnels look different as well. While termites actually eat the wood, carpenter ants simply carve out tunnels for shelter. The carpenter ant tunnels look extremely clean and meticulous while termite tunnels look messy with dirt in them, according to the University of Massachusetts.
The two main ways to exterminate termites include bait and barrier methods. In the bait method, professionals place poison bait stations in strategic locations around untreated wood. The whole colony begins to share the poison. Then, the queen eats and secretes her special chemical and the rest of the colony dies, according to the University of Massachusetts. The barrier method involves spraying and injecting poison into the soil all the way around the foundation. The termites refuse to cross the barrier, and if they do, they die.