Difference between Ants and Termites

By: | Updated: Dec-21, 2017

Ants and termites look similar to the untrained eye, but they are actually not even remotely related. The harmless “white ants” you see in your home could possibly be termites and not ants (and that means it’s a disaster waiting to happen!) How are they different? This article will discuss the difference between ants and termites.

Summary Table

Belong to the family FormicidaeBelong to the infraorder Isoptera
Usually red-orange, dark red, brown, or blackWhite or cream colored
Have compound eyes, thin waist, long legs and elbowed antennaeNo eyes, have a wide waist, straight, beaded antennae and short legs
Go through complete metamorphosis: egg > larva > pupa > adultGo through incomplete metamorphosis: egg > nymph > adult
Feed on meat, insects, human food, fruits, fungi, etc.Eat wood, plants, cardboard, and paper
Dwell in hollow wood or undergroundBuild subterranean nests and mounds
Some species are considered nuisanceCan cause structural damage


An ant

Ants belong to the family Formicidae. They are social insects, and there are about 22,000 species.

Depending on the species, ants may be red-orange, dark red, brown or black. Their bodies have three rounded segments: a head, thorax and abdomen, or stomach. Their waists, where the thorax and stomach meet, are evidently thin. They have bent or elbowed antennae. Their eyes, which are composed of multiple tiny lenses, are noticeable on the side of their heads. They have strong mandibles that are used to bite, carry food, defend themselves and build their nests. They have six long legs.

Famous for being hardworking insects, ants sometimes travel up to 700 ft from their nest to scavenge and carry their food back to the nest. Each ant can carry up to 50 times its body weight. Depending on the species, ants eat fruits, fungi, meat from dead animals, other insects and human food (which is why they are considered a nuisance).

Ants build complex nests underground or in hollow wood, although some species are nomadic. Since ants are social insects, they gather in colonies in their nests. They follow a caste system where different members have different duties: the queen (or queens depending on the size of the colony), workers, soldiers and drones all have their roles. Only the queen ant can lay eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae are being fed by the queen and workers until they grow and molt into a pupa. Adult ants will then emerge from the pupa.

A termite

On the other hand, termites are eusocial insects that belong to the infraorder Isoptera. They are related to cockroaches.

Termites are tiny white insects. Their bodies have two segments: the head and abdomen. They have straight and beaded antennae, short legs and wide waists. Most species do not have eyes, so they communicate through their antennae.

Being social insects, termites live in colonies and follow a caste system. Each colony has a king, queen, workers and soldiers. Some workers become winged adults (alates) when it is time for them to start a new colony. Once a male alate finds a female alate, they land, look for shelter and mate. The queen will then lay eggs, which will become nymphs and then adults. Termites dwell in subterranean nests, but may build tall mounds from the ground.

Known as “silent killers”, termites are considered pests because they can cause structural damage to homes. This is because termites eat cellulose, an organic substance found in plants and wood, including the wood in your house. This means their diet also includes paper and boxes aside from wood. However, termites are also detritivores, which means they feed on decaying matter, which makes them important to the environment.

Ants vs Termites

What, then, is the difference between ants and termites?

In terms of appearance, ants are often red-orange, dark red, brown or black. They have tiny waists, compound eyes on the side of their heads, long legs and elbowed antennae. On the other hand, termites are white or cream colored. They have wide bodies, short legs and straight beaded antennae. They don’t have eyes.

When the queen ant’s eggs hatch, the larvae emerge and are fed by the queen and workers. The larvae molt into pupas, and then the pupas will become mature ants. Termites go through incomplete metamorphosis. When the eggs hatch, nymphs emerge and will become adults.

Additionally, ants eat meat, insects, human food, fruits, fungi, etc., whereas termites eat wood, plants, cardboard, and paper. Ants dwell in hollow wood or underground, while termites build subterranean nests and mounds.

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