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Flying Ants vs Termites

Flying ants vs termites: “How I can tell them apart?” is the big question that has been a mind boggler to many, especially homeowners who know about the destruction termites can do to their homes.

So, once and for all, let’s put this question about flying ants vs termites to rest by taking a look at the differences between the shapes and behaviors of these similar looking insects. And while we’re on the subject, let’s also find out how dangerous they are and what you can do to get rid of them.

Flying Ants vs Termites that Swarm

Like termites, most ants are social insects that need to duplicate their entire colonies to help propagate their species. In general, the ants you see in your daily live are but a fraction of the colony they’re a part of; a colony can have tens, even hundreds, of thousands of members.

As a colony member, an ant or termite by herself would be completely lost and not live very long. One such ant or termite is to its colony like a cell is to your body. And so all those tens of thousands of members make up one huge animal, so to speak.

A colony can grow substantially, and when it reaches a certain size the workers create new queens, fertile winged females that are able to mate with kings (males) and lay eggs, thus beginning a new colony.

Termite queens and ant queens look very much alike to the untrained eye. Yet, there are substantial differences. For instance: ants are faster on the wing. In a flight competition of flying ants vs termites, the flying ants would definitely win the race.

How they Fly…

Once you know the difference in their flight, the question of flying ants vs termites will be less of a riddle.

Let’s look at the differences:

Flying ants take off like a jet plane, with no hesitation. They start out quickly and fly straight to the strongest source of light. They move fast, giving the impression that they know where they’re going and mean business.

Flying termites on the other hand, look like they are struggling to stay in-flight. They, too, follow their attraction to the strongest available light source, but compared to flying ants, they seem to flutter helplessly through the air.

Both being part of the food chain, the majority, if not all, of both the ant and termite swarmers will die. They become a meal to other insects, like dragonflies and ants, and animals such as various small birds and lizards. Obviously this happens when the swarming occurs outside, in the open.

But, termites can swarm inside of our building structures as well. And when they do, most people, especially homeowners, freak out. Not knowing the difference (flying ants vs termites), many people mistakenly think they’re dealing with an excessive amount of flying ants and dismiss the problem. This, obviously, is a serious mistake.

You need to learn to recognize the difference. To do this, you’ll need to take a closer look at their bodies.

Physical Differences

Like all insects, ants and termites have three body-parts, namely: a head, a chest (thorax), and an abdomen. With ants, the three body sections are very distinct and the abdomen is noticeably separated from the thorax. Ants’ bodies have a waist-line.

But that’s not so with termite bodies. Take a closer look at termite bodies and you will not see such a clear distinction. In fact, the head, chest and abdomen of termites appear to be fused together into one solid union and there is no waist line.

Now the difference in body count:

If you could count the number of flying ants vs termites that swarm, you’d find the termites swarmers outnumber the flying ants by a very significant margin.

Chances are slim you’ll ever actually see ants swarm, though, because for one, they usually swarm outside, and two, their numbers of swarmers is almost too small to really catch your attention. Take fire-ants for example: Before their flight you’ll suddenly notice an increase in their activity around the fire ants’ mound, as a few hundred swarmers (i.e., the queens and kings) will reach for a high point (any blade of grass will do) to launch in the direction of the sun. (But you have to be right by the nest to see all this.)

In contrast, termites put on a grand show that’s hard to miss. If you’ve never seen termites swarm inside a building you may find this hard to believe — termites swarm in extremely high numbers, sometimes in the tens of thousands!

That’s why flying termites most definitely hold the record in this category. Their swarming activity has been described this way: “It was as though all of a sudden there was a dark cloud filling the room, and I felt like they were going to attack me.” This description is typical for the diurnal, black colored Eastern Subterranean termites. Yet it’s nothing compared to the nocturnal swarming activity of the much larger, brown colored Formosan Subterranean termites that swarm by the hundreds of thousands.